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Ranked-choice voting education campaign is underway but Arlington NAACP says more needs to be done

Six months ago, the Arlington County Board adopted ranked-choice voting for the upcoming Democratic primary.

Since then, the Arlington elections office has been busy educating anyone who asks on the method, which only applies to candidates for County Board.

The Arlington branch of the NAACP, however, says the county needs to step up its outreach to ensure all voters are prepared when they cast early ballots or go to the polls on June 20.

ARLnow, for instance, has heard from some residents who are unsure or skeptical of how votes will be counted.

“We have directly heard a series of grave concerns from our community regarding the implementation of this significant change,” NAACP President Mike Hemminger said in a statement. “We will be monitoring this change with intense focus in the run up to and after the election to ensure that no one’s foundational right to vote becomes disenfranchised or impeded in Arlington County.”

Concern about outreach highlights the stakes of this trial run. Arlington is the first Virginia jurisdiction to test ranked-choice voting for the primary and one election official tells ARLnow that people outside the county are watching closely.

“It’s fair to say, without sounding dramatic, that the eyes of the Commonwealth are on Arlington and this ranked-choice voting process,” Arlington Electoral Board Secretary Scott McGeary says.

Its success in the primary could also determine if ranked-choice voting is adopted to pick the successors for Christian Dorsey and Katie Cristol in the November general election.

So far, interest in learning more about ranked-choice voting is strong, says Arlington Dept. of Voter Registration and Elections Director Gretchen Reinemeyer.

Her staff is working through an education plan it rolled out in April. Part of that is making presentations — at a clip of at least two presentations a week, and once three in one night — and helping community groups facilitate workshops.

“Rollout for ranked-choice voting has gone smoothly,” Reinemeyer says. “I would say that most voters understand the concept and are aware that the County Board race is using the voting method. A handful of voters are vocally unhappy. The most common question is ‘Do I have to rank all three?'”

The answer to that, McGeary says, is no. People can rank up to three candidates — the maximum county ballot machines can accommodate. Some recent endorsements have recommended how candidates should be ranked.

One key strategy was developing toolkits so that people and organizations could host information sessions and run mock elections, which Reinemeyer said has been an effective way to reach lots of people and explain how votes are counted.

“The idea of these toolkits is that anyone can take the toolkit and teach their friends, neighbors, community organizations about ranked choice voting,” Reinemeyer said. “We are seeing members of our community run with these toolkits.”

The county is also relying on materials the state produced. This includes two videos — one explaining how ranked-choice voting works and the other how votes are counted — as well as an FAQ page and flyers in Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.

One notable change, per a state video, is that if there are no clear winners, it could take up to seven days to apportion second- and third-choice votes to determine who actually won.

“I have no doubt we’ll be able to do the math properly and get the results as fast as possible,” McGeary said. “From a technical and counting standpoint, I’m confident we’ll be able to count and announce as soon as possible.”

The state materials alleviated the need for the county to develop a homegrown education campaign, Arlington County Board Communications and Policy Manager David Barrera tells ARLnow.

Initially, the ranked-choice voting resolution included a line committing the county to spending roughly $50,000 on education materials.

“After the resolution was passed… the Virginia Department of Elections contracted with a PR firm to develop the needed community education campaign materials available in four languages for ranked-choice voting — which eliminated the need to use local funds to create these resources,” Barrera said.

The NAACP argues the county should have spent its own money anyway.

“Voting rights has always been core to our mission as a civil rights organization,” Hemminger said. “The NAACP is disappointed to learn that the county did not fulfill its commitment as mentioned at the December County Board meeting and instead relied on the state to make the best decision for our community.”

For more information, voters can download flyers explaining the process, its benefits and how to mark a ballot or practice ranking their top ice cream flavors on Arlington’s website. The next tabulation workshop is on Tuesday from 6:30-7:30 pm in Monroe Park (1330 S. Monroe Street).

Residents can also reach out to [email protected] to coordinate a presentation and all election officers will trained to assist voters when they cast ballots, Reinemeyer said.

Meanwhile, early voter turnout is outpacing voter turnout in the last comparable election in 2019, according to new data from Arlington County.

Between then and now, early voting has become easier, McGeary said. The Virginia General Assembly allowed early voting for 45 days before an election day, allowed anyone to request an absentee ballot without a reason and allowed same-day voter registration. It permitted ballot drop boxes, of which there are nine in Arlington.

“It’s never been easier to register. It’s never been easier to vote,” says McGeary. “The more people who vote, usually the better.”

Voters are picking the Democratic nominees for the County Board as well as Arlington County Sheriff and Commonwealth’s Attorney, and one seat each in the State Senate and the Virginia House of Delegates.

So far, 1,315 people have already voted, including 587 people who voted early and in person. Of the 9,647 ballots mailed, 728 have already been returned.

Voter turnout data (via Arlington County)

The last day to register to vote or update existing registration is this coming Tuesday. The last day to request a mail-in ballot is June 9.

Early voting is occuring at Courthouse Plaza (2100 Clarendon Blvd, Ste 320) now through June 16 and at the Madison and Walter Reed community centers in June.

Hours at Courthouse Plaza are as follows:

  • Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 10 and 17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
  • Tuesday, June 13 and Thursday, June 15, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Voting at the Madison Community Center (3829 N. Stafford Street) and the Walter Reed Community Center (2909 16th Street S.) will be held:

  • Tuesday, June 13 and Thursday, June 15, from 2-7 p.m.
  • Saturday, June 10 and 17, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

On primary day — Tuesday, June 20 — polls will be open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.

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