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Public education to kick off next month for ranked-choice voting

Many Arlington voters already have familiarity with process

April 12 will mark the opening salvo in a public-education campaign to get the community comfortable with ranked-choice voting.

That’s the date of an open house to show off the newly renovated county-government headquarters, and election officials figure it’s the right time to start the ball rolling on voter-education efforts.

Arlington on June 20 will hold a Democratic County Board primary under ranked-choice voting, the first time that a state-run primary has used that method in Virginia.

“There’s a lot of interest – we’ve had people [inquiring] from as far away as Hawaii,” county director of elections Gretchen Reinemeyer said at the most recent Electoral Board meeting.

Arlington election officials will work in conjunction with the Virginia Department of Elections to educate the public on the change, with a goal of getting voters familiar by the time early voting begins on May 5.

Many Arlingtonians already are familiar with the ranked-choice concept, in which voters can – but are not required to – rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference. The Arlington County Democratic Committee has used the process in its School Board caucuses and some other nominating races in recent years, and the Republican Party of Virginia used it for selection of its 2021 statewide ticket.

Because of technological limits on the county’s current voting equipment, those casting ballots will only be able to rank their top three candidates.

Drawing from legislation sponsored by Del. Patrick Hope – the patron saint of ranked-choice voting among Virginia legislators – Arlington County Board members last December approved moving to ranked-choice voting for the County Board primary. Whether it will be extended to the County Board race in the general election could depend on how smoothly the process works in June.

There will be a number of Democratic primary races on the Arlington ballot June 20 – including for commonwealth’s attorney, sheriff and several General Assembly seats – but only the County Board race will be conducted under ranked-choice voting. The others will use the traditional winner-take-all method.

(There currently are six announced Democratic candidates for the two County Board posts on the ballot. On the off chance that fewer than four qualify for the ballot, using the ranked-choice process will not be necessary.)

Arlington was the first locality to receive permission from Richmond to conduct its elections for the governing body using the new format, but now all counties and cities have the power to switch to ranked-choice voting for city council and board of supervisors elections.

Most of those localities are waiting to see how Arlington’s process goes before wading in, and the General Assembly also is looking in from on-high, to determine whether to expand the types of elected officials that can be selected under the newer method.