Arlington County, Virginia held its first ranked choice voting elections on Tuesday, June 20, during the Democratic primary for county board -- and many voters appear to approve of the new voting method.
The Washington Post ran a headline two days ahead of the primary that read, "Virginia's first ranked choice voting election is vexing some Arlington voters." Yet, reports on election day show that the process was smooth for the majority of people.
"Many Arlington Democratic voters spoke positively about the ranked-choice voting system being pioneered this Primary Day for two county board of supervisors seats, although some said more education would have been helpful," states an article from the Virginia Mercury.
No experience should be trivialized. Westover Precinct Chief Michael Shea said he thinks "people generally understand it," but also noted that a few voters didn't. "We don’t want a single voter to not know.”
With any new voting system, education is important. The more familiar voters get with the system, the less issues they will have with it. This will come as voters use RCV in more elections.
To quickly recap, ranked choice voting gives voters the option to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference -- 1st choice, 2nd choice, 3rd choice. If no candidate gets a majority of first choice selections, the last place candidate is eliminated, and their voters' next choices are applied to the results in an instant runoff round.
The only part that concerns voters is the ranking of the candidates, which is why so many voters find the experience to be easy. They rank candidates like they would rank their favorite foods, music, movies -- anything in their lives.
"It was pretty easy,” one county resident told the Virginia Mercury. "I think it gives the impression of more of an equal playing field and it encourages people to read up more on the candidates."
"It was super easy. I looked over it before I got here, went in and it’s 1, 2, 3," said Brad Prindle of Lyon Park.
"We've probably had more people mess up the non ranked choice part of the ballot than the ranked choice part," remarked Brad Harmon, the chief election officer in Rosslyn,
The 2023 Democratic primary was the first election in which Arlington County used RCV. The county is also the first jurisdiction in Virginia to use the alternative voting method -- though the state's Republican Party has used it to select its nominees.
Arlington County joins a growing list of RCV jurisdictions that now includes over 50 cities, counties, and states and represents approximately 13 million voters. This includes two states, Maine and Alaska.
Alaska used RCV at the state level for the first time in 2022. Like in Arlington County, voters up north found the RCV process to be smooth and easy. They also largely believe their state's new election system gives them better choice and a more meaningful voice.
A recent Citizen Data survey found that voters would like the option to rank candidates in the 2024 presidential primary elections.
The Arlington County elections office is seeking feedback from voters to get a full assessment of how the RCV experience was for people. The findings will be presented to the County Board next month, after which the Board will consider if RCV should be used in the November general election.
Arlington County residents have until July 5 to fill out an online feedback form.