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Ranked-choice voting would help Virginia better represent its people

Adam P. Ebbin :: Washington Post

Adam P. Ebbin, a Democrat, represents Alexandria in the Virginia Senate.

It’s a sad truth that Virginia has not always been at the forefront of voting rights and democracy reform. When I first ran for public office, many of my constituents warned me that Virginia is notorious for moving slowly and not embracing change.

But what a difference a year can make.

With all the strides Virginia has made in the past year, one such new law was passed with comparatively little fanfare, though it could be one of the most significant: a pilot program for ranked-choice voting.

This is a very simple improvement to the way we now cast ballots. Ranked-choice voting helps elect a candidate who reflects the wishes of the majority of voters in a given election by allowing voters to rank in order of preference: first, second, third, etc.

When votes are tabulated, if the first-place candidate does not receive a majority, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and the voters who marked that candidate as their top choice will have their second-choice votes counted instead. This instant runoff will continue until a candidate has more than half the vote, tangibly ensuring that the majority rules.

Here’s an example of how ranked-choice voting could be effective in real time: In the coming weeks, Virginia Democrats will be choosing their 2021 candidates in primary elections. This includes legislative seats as well as statewide offices such as lieutenant governor — a race with six candidates.

If votes are split evenly, there is a legitimate chance that the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor could have as little as 17 percent of the total vote. Imagine nominating a statewide candidate against whom 85 percent of the electorate voted. Ranked-choice voting would allow for a streamlined result that allows voters to vote their conscience rather than in a strategic attempt to thwart another candidate.

The ranked-choice voting bill signed into law last year serves as a starting point to make this a reality in Virginia. It allows localities to voluntarily adopt a pilot program for their local elections beginning this year.

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