Arlington County, Virginia made headlines in June as it conducted its first ranked-choice voting election during the Democrat primary for county board positions on the ballot this coming November. The results were a textbook case against ranked-choice voting. As The Wall Street Journal Editorial Board explained, the top two candidates in the first round were not the two candidates that ultimately moved on to the general election later this year:
With six people running, the two primary winners were Susan Cunningham and Maureen Coffey. They finished first and third in the initial ranked-choice round. But No. 2, Natalie Roy, was knocked out after five rounds of counting, as less-popular candidates were eliminated and their supporters were reshuffled to second, third or fourth favorites.
Ranked-choice proponents defend this type of outcome as a consensus choice, while many voters scratch their temples as returns come in. The Arlington primary added a further complication, known as proportional ranked choice. Because these elections have two or more winners, candidates who have already cleared a victory threshold also have their excess votes reallocated.
The County has already reversed course and will not be using ranked-choice voting in the general election. The decision came less than a month after June’s primary election. The Foundation for Government Accountability highlighted the confusion the current County Board has over how the primary was conducted:
Arlington County Board Vice-Chair Libby Garvey (D) questioned whether a “different tabulation method could have yielded a different outcome,” as well as whether the algorithm “did not equally count everyone’s second-choice vote.”
Unfortunately, the County has not closed the door on using ranked-choice voting in the future. There should be bipartisan opposition to any effort to return to using ranked-choice voting.