What do former Republican Gov. George Allen and former Democratic Lt. Gov. Don Beyer have in common? Aside from winning elections to serve in statewide office and in Congress, Allen and Beyer also strongly support ranked choice voting, Virginia’s newest method of holding elections.
The ability for voters to cast a ballot ranking their choices first, second, and third, etc., in fields of more than two candidates is being considered in various cities and counties across the state, including Richmond and Fredericksburg.
If no candidate wins a majority, the least popular candidate is eliminated. Their votes are then distributed to those voters’ second picks. The process repeats until someone wins the election with a majority.
Allen and Beyer are joining hundreds of other Virginians in advocating ranked choice voting for voters in local elections to ensure the winners gain the support of a majority of voters.
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“Ranked choice voting is designed to reward candidates who build consensus,” Allen said. Winners of multicandidate races “are truly representative of the majority of the voters,” he said.
Virginia Republicans successfully used the ranked choice process to nominate their candidates for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general last year. However, Allen said, “ranked choice voting is not something that benefits either party. It benefits the voters.”
Democratic Congressman Beyer agrees. “Ranked choice voting brings people together regardless of their political leanings,” he said. “Extreme voices tend to be drowned out.”
Ranked choice voting discourages negative campaigning because candidates don’t want to alienate voters who could rank them second or third choices, said Liz White, who directs the new nonprofit and nonpartisan organization “UpVote Virginia.”
White said this method of allowing more choices means more people run for office, which often results in more winners who are women and/or people of color.
In ranked choice voting, voters can vote for one candidate or can rank an entire slate. So far, its use in New York City and in races in Maine and elsewhere have proven popular. In New York, 78 percent of voters in the city’s race for mayor chose to rank more than one candidate and 44 percent chose to rank all the candidates.
In the mayor’s race, 77 percent of voters expressed the desire to use the ranked choice method in future city elections and 62 percent said it should be used in other U.S. elections.
White was executive director of OneVirginia2021, which pushed for fair redistricting and an end to political gerrymandering. OneVirginia2021 became UpVote Virginia on August 16. She introduced Allen and Beyer at the new organization’s launch Tuesday.
She said that ranked choice voting will bring “elected representatives who will more closely mirror the values and priorities of their constituents. Fringe candidates, who only have the support of a finite base, can’t win without crossover appeal.”
Larry Sabato, the director of the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said more experience with this relatively new form of voting will help to better understand its strengths and possible problems.
“The theory is that RCV produces more moderate nominees for obvious reasons,” Sabato said. “That’s true in some cases, but just wait until the operatives and parties start working the system.”
For example, “single-shotting will eventually become more widely practiced. We have a history of single-shotting here in Virginia and throughout the South.” Single shotting is when there are multiple candidates but voters choose to cast a ballot for only one.
Sabato said another problem might be voter confusion before everyone becomes used to the new practice.
Under legislation sponsored by Virginia Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, any Virginia locality can adopt the method for local elections, which Richmond may do as early as this fall for next year.
Other Virginia cities and counties may quickly follow suit.