Localities in Virginia have the ability to institute a new way of casting ballots whose proponents say would encourage more people to vote and run for office. But Albemarle’s new registrar told the Board of Supervisors earlier this month that more time is needed to implement ranked choice ballots.
“There are significant unresolved technical and legal issues that affect the implementation of ranked choice voting in 2023 elections,” said Lauren Eddy, Albemarle’s Director of Elections.
Eddy’s briefing was the second Supervisors have received this month on ranked choice voting. Delegate Sally Hudson was before them on November 4 to explain the basic concept. Her legislation in 2020 has made it possible for localities to consider a system where voters rank candidates when casting their ballot. (read the story).
At the Supervisor’s meeting on November 16, Eddy explained a basic ground rule.
“Ranked choice voting only comes into play if there are three or more candidates,” Eddy said.
The last time there was a three-way race in Albemarle was in 2009 when there were three candidates for the Samuel Miller District. Before that, there was a three-way race in the Rio district in 2005.
School Board races would not be eligible under legislation passed in 2020.
Eddy said that Arlington County is also considering ranked choice voting but that’s because groundwork has been laid.
“Last Saturday, the Arlington County Board approved using ranked choice voting as a pilot for their June 20, 2023 primary,” Eddy said. “But to note, Arlington County had been discussing ranked choice voting for two years and recently completed their round of public comment.”
Eddy said for ranked choice to work in Albemarle, her office would need an election system where ranked choice ballots could be scanned.
“And then export the ballot data to a cast vote record, then tabulate the results of the multiple rounds, reallocate those votes to the remaining candidates, until one person gets a majority,” Eddy said.
The current system can only handle scans for one vote. Eddy said it could be upgraded to produce that “cast vote” record for one round of an instant run-off. A new scanning system would be required to add more rounds.
“So, to tabulate the votes and reallocate the votes to the remaining candidates until we get a majority vote winner, we would have to have additional tabulation software and the vendor that we currently have does not offer that software,” Eddy said.
There is open source tabulation software that’s written by a nonprofit that advocates for ranked choice voting, but Eddy said there are some issues including the fact that Virginia does not yet certify that program’s use. She said the Department of Elections is working toward that goal but for now, the cost to implement ranked choice voting would be borne entirely by a locality.
“Another big thing for us would be voter education,” Eddy said. “Our voters have voted the same way for years and so voter education is going to be a key to the success of a [ranked choice voting] election. The law requires that RCV voter education campaigns start at least sixty days before the election, and we view this as a minimum.”
Eddy said March 7 is the deadline for when political parties need to decide how to select their nominee for the general election through either a primary or a caucus. April 6 is the deadline for when party candidates have to be certified to be a nominee.
The election in 2023 will see Supervisor races in the Rivanna, Scottsville, and White Hall Districts. If Albemarle were to proceed with ranked choice voting, the vote education campaign would need to be underway by April 21.
“Early voting would begin on May 6 and then the primary election would be held on June 20,” Eddy said.
Eddy said voter education could begin now if Supervisors thought ranked choice was a direction they might want to pursue.
Supervisor Jim Andrews was elected in 2021 to represent the Samuel Miller District. He was the only candidate on the ballot and sees ranked choice voting as a way to encourage more people to run in the future.
“There are a lot of reasons why I think pursuing this is something I think we should continue to do but I do recognize that you’ve raised a lot of questions that we’ll need to get answers from the state and guidance and I hope that we can continue to pursue doing this,” Andrews said.
Supervisors took no action at the meeting.
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