Ranked-Choice Voting

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Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) refers to an electoral method in which voters rank candidates in order of preference on their ballots. This system is sometimes referred to as an instant runoff voting system. Ranked-choice voting eliminates the need for run-off elections. The states have the authority to determine which electoral systems they will use in contests for state-level offices.

Charlottesville's at-large city council seat elections is a multi-winner contests. For example, three at-large council seats were up for election in a 2019. In this election, voters were asked to select up to three choices on their ballots. The top three vote-getters won election to the at-large seats. A multi-winner system is one in which multiple candidates are elected to an office.

Under a ranked-choice voting system, voters can rank candidates in order of preference, without their other rankings hurting the chances of their first choice. They can also vote for as many candidates as they want. If their favorite candidate doesn’t win a majority of the first-choice votes, their vote then counts toward their second choice. [1]

At-Large Voting

The top finishers need only a plurality, not a majority of votes cast, to win. The voter may only use one of their allotted votes for each candidate. Unlike semi-proportional methods like ranked choice or cumulative voting, there is no option the voter can show a preference among the list of candidates they vote for.

Voting System RCV Capability


City's voting equipment

County's voting equipment

Paper Ballots

Following problems with touchscreen and computer ballots, voters in Albemarle County and the City of Charlottesville returned to paper ballots in 2015 after a law passed in 2007 prohibiting localities from making any more purchases of election technology. State Delegate Timothy D. Hugo expressed voter concerns with miscounts and the unavailability of a back-up system. [3] Although there were concerns that paper ballots would take longer to fill out and cause long lines to form at the polls, voting officials found this to not be the case.[4] These instances of states reverting to “less advanced” voting systems after testing and deployment can serve as a deterrent for states considering adopting new technology, as well as for vendors considering the costly investment in the development and certification of new machines.

2020 legislative session

2019 legislative session

In Virginia's 2019 legislative session, Delegate David J. Toscano (D - Charlottesville), 57th District and Delegate R. Lee Ware (R-Powhatan), 65th District sponsored HB2751 to bring RCV method for elections of members of a county board of supervisors or city council.

The Bill describes the method of casting and tabulating votes in which:
(i) voters rank candidates in order of preference,
(ii) tabulation proceeds in rounds in each of which either a candidate or candidates are elected or the last-place candidate is defeated, and
(iii) tabulation ends when the number of candidates elected equals the number of offices to be filled.

The bill provides that any costs incurred by the Department of Elections related to technological changes necessary for the implementation of ranked-choice voting pursuant to the bill shall be charged to the localities exercising the option to proceed with ranked-choice voting. The House Subcommittee (House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee) recommended laying on the table (4-Y 3-N).

A similar bill was introduced by Delegates Nick Freitas (R - Culpeper) and Patrick Hope (D - Arlington) with HB2097 to bring ranked choice voting for elections of local and constitutional offices was defeated in House Subcommittee (7-Y 0-N).

As of 2019, one state (Maine - a Home Rule state) had implemented RCV at the state level.

Ranked-choice elections, also known as instant runoff elections, are currently used in 11 local jurisdictions. Maine voters on June 12 gave the green light for the system to be used for the first time in U.S. House and Senate elections in November. Larry Sabato, director of the University of Virginia Center for Politics, said he's open to the idea and wants to see how it works plays out in Maine. "States are the laboratories of democracy, and here's a great experiment for one laboratory. If it works well, others may adopt it. If not, then they won't," he said. [5]

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  1. https://www.c-ville.com/breaking-rank
  2. https://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title24.2/chapter6/section24.2-629/
  3. “Md., Virginia Will Return to Paper Ballots,” The Daily Progress, October 30, 2008, http://www.dailyprogress.com/news/md-virginia-will-return-to-paper-ballots/ article_1e7fd450-b3a0-5e8f-90b8-5d58f7fd9841.html.
  4. Return to Paper Ballots Successful in Abermarle County,” Newsplex, November 3, 2015, http://www.newsplex.com/home/headlines/Return-to-Paper-Ballots- Successful-in-Albemarle-Co-340007602.html.
  5. https://www.apnews.com/996d0ed935644415b29c88d4dfdc3837 Maine AG wins in biggest test of ranked-choice voting in US By Marina Villeneuve, Associated Press June 20, 2018

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