Virginia's first ranked-choice voting election was conducted today in Arlington, Virginia to fill two open seats on the Arlington County Board. Even before Election Day, problems with the system were beginning to appear. The Washington Post explained that there was confusion over who was responsible for educating the public about the new way of voting, and the public straight up didn't understand how ranked-choice voting works:
Much of the frustration has focused on the wonky, hard-to-follow way that votes are counted: Because ranked-choice voting is being used to pick not one but two nominees, critics say the tabulation methods are unfamiliar, confusing or even undemocratic. . .
Voters rank the candidates in their order of preference. They cannot rank the same candidate twice. (Arlington will only allow up to three candidates to be ranked, due to the limited capacity of its voting machines.)
In “single-winner” races like the one in Alaska, ballots are counted this way: First-choice votes are tallied, and the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. Ballots that ranked the eliminated candidate first are reassigned to the voter’s second choice. The process is repeated, whittling down the field one by one until there’s a winner.
Counting votes in Arlington’s “multi-winner” contest is more complicated. Because multiple candidates are being selected, some of them may win the necessary number of votes in an earlier round. If a candidate reaches this winning threshold before anyone else, a fraction of the ballot that ranked the winning candidate first is passed onto the voter’s second (or third) choice.
As of the writing of this blog, no candidate had received enough votes to win any of the open seats on the Arlington County Board. The results will likely take several days to tabulate.
The longer is takes to tabulate the votes, the less confidence voters have in the elections system.
As Stop RCV summarized:
It’s more complicated, more partisan, and less transparent. Ranked-choice voting is wrong for our elections.