Jonathan Davis column: Ranked choice option builds on Virginia’s voting rights momentum | Columnists


By Jonathan Davis

In the United States, some lawmakers seem to be doing all they can to make it harder for voters to vote, especially in communities of color. Virginians don’t have to look far to find recent examples of voter suppression.

In North Carolina, mail-in voting has been restricted to the point of making it nearly impossible. In Tennessee, the legislature considered a bill that would allow county election commissions to fingerprint voters under the guise of voter integrity. And according to a recent study by the nonpartisan Center for Election Innovation & Research, West Virginia is one of 15 states that have made absentee voting more difficult during the pandemic.

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Thankfully, Virginia was spared the worst of these recent attacks on voting rights following the “big lie” that the 2020 presidential election was rigged. Despite our well-documented Jim Crow laws of the last century, Virginia has made great strides in recent years to expand ballot accessibility and make our democracy work for the benefit of all voters.

One of the accomplishments was the passage of House Bill 1103 in 2020. This legislation gave localities the ability to implement a preferential-choice voting pilot program for local governing bodies such as councils. municipalities or supervisory boards.

Rank voting allows voters to list their favorite candidates in order of preference, instead of simply ticking a box on a ballot. As the results are tallied, the lowest-ranked candidate is eliminated, and voters who chose that candidate instead have their second-choice votes counted. Ultimately, the majority reigns as the candidate who first gets more than 50% of the first-place votes is declared the winner.

The Crusade for Voters and other supporters of ranked voting prefer this method because it favors candidates who build consensus, while giving lesser-known candidates with smaller campaign bank accounts a better chance of success. If the end result is to truly reflect the will of the people, voters are much less likely to feel like they are choosing between the “lesser of two evils”.

HB 1103 won broad support in the General Assembly, including from Richmond-area lawmakers like Dels. Lamont Bagby, Jeff Bourne, Dolores McQuinn, and Schuyler VanValkenburg; and the senses. Ghazala Hashmi and Jennifer McClellan.

Richmond City Councilor Katherine Jordan then penned a proposal to implement ranked ballot for council elections beginning in 2024. The Richmond Crusade for Voters urges other City Council members to support her article .

It would just be a pilot program, meaning there will be an option to go back to the old way of voting if voters don’t like it. But if data from other cities is any indication, ranked choice voting is easy to understand, popular and a win for voters of different demographics and ethnicities — especially in municipalities like Richmond with large minority populations.

Santa Fe, New Mexico, a city with 54% Hispanic or Latino residents, launched its ranked choice program in 2018. It was a huge success, with 94% of voters saying they were happy using the new voting system. voting for the first time. .

In Oakland, Calif., ranked ballots allowed more women and candidates of color to be elected. In one city the U.S. Census lists more than two-thirds non-white, data from a recent analysis of Bay Area localities showed minority candidates have won 62% of elections since the new system, against only 38% before the program. introduced.

The most publicized example was the 2021 election in New York, where 58% of residents are non-white. Simply put, voters not only found the ballots simple to fill out (at 95%), but when all the votes were counted, New Yorkers elected the city’s second black mayor, as well as the most diverse first woman. majority council in its history.

It’s easy to see why ranked ballot is the fastest growing nonpartisan electoral reform in America. More than 50 US cities have adopted such programs. It is simple to implement, popular with voters and unquestionably beneficial for minorities and women seeking public office.

If Richmond City Council members are serious about building on the momentum of recent voting rights expansions in Virginia, they will move forward with Councilwoman Jordan’s plan to implement preferential choice voting for the next council elections. This is an important step forward for our democracy.

Jonathan Davis is president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters. Contact him at:


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