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The Right Note: Dashed Hopes on Instant-Runoff Voting

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Delegate Patrick Hope unsuccessfully tried to move a bill through the House of Delegates to change the way Arlingtonians vote for County Board.

Hope’s bill would not have required the County Board to adopt the new voting process, it would have just given them the option. It is not an option they should have.

Hope proposed what’s known as “instant-runoff voting” which would give voters the ability to rank their choices when voting. This process has been used by local Democrats in recent caucus voting.

If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the votes, the the second choice of the last place candidate is redistributed to the other candidates in the field based on the ranking. The process repeats until someone reaches a majority.

Having come in a fairly close second (for an Arlington Republican anyway) in the most recent County Board special election which resulted in no one receiving 50 percent of the vote, you might think I would be for this change.

However, in a county where the numerical advantage so overwhelmingly favors the Democrats, removing the ability for a non-Democrat to win a plurality vote means the only real practical impact of the proposed change would be to put Independents and Republicans at a further political disadvantage.

The cynic may say the call for instant-runoff voting, much like redistricting reforms, is most often pushed by those who think the change would tilt the political playing field their way. But let’s give Hope and others the benefit of the doubt, that one of the big goals is to find a solution that creates more “civility” in politics. Poll after poll certainly says voters would prefer a better tone during our elections.

In Arlington, general elections are not really acrimonious affairs. Can someone really say that any County Board races have devolved into mudslinging affairs in recent memory? Maybe the problem is just with the tone on the Democratic side in their primary elections?

Another of Hope’s stated goals is to prevent a “fringe candidate” from winning a crowded field with only 25 or 30 percent of the vote. Someone should ask Delegate Hope which “fringe candidate” who failed to receive 50 percent is sitting in office that he thinks fits the bill?

It is understandable that politicians want to be seen as doing something, but changing the system of electing candidates is unlikely to change the current political environment here in Arlington.

If you want more civility overall as a political leader, recruit candidates who will adopt a positive tone in their campaigns. If you want more civility as a voter, do not reward candidates who run scorched earth campaigns with your vote.

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