What Happened to Ranked Choice Voting for Richmond? What do we do now?
By Elizabeth Melson
FairVote Virginia, President
On Tuesday, September 6th, an ordinance proposing Ranked Choice Voting for future Richmond City Council elections was discussed in the Organizational Development committee. After lengthy discussion, there was a motion made to strike the ordinance.
Why was Ranked Choice Voting opposed?
(1) An unfortunate history of voter suppression and disenfranchisement of African Americans in Richmond. Councilors noted that Richmond is unique and should not be used as a "test case" for RCV.
RCV advocates were unable to convince influential decision makers of how ranked choice voting can actually consolidate and strengthen the African American vote, rather than dilute it, when more than one similar candidate is running. RCV allows for more voices and more choices to enter the competition and it eliminates the "spoiler effect."
We have more work to do in this area and data to present to key decision makers, if RCV is to be considered again in Richmond in the future. Fortunately, with each new city that adopts RCV, there is more real life data that supports our points.
2) Related to the first point, the opinion was echoed by many opponents that an end to felony voting rights disenfranchisement should be addressed, before making any changes to Richmond's voting system.
I personally agree that there should be an end to felony disenfranchisement or, at least automatic restoration of voting rights after serving a sentence. I have advocated for both, outside my official capacity of FairVote Virginia.
Having been formerly disenfranchised myself, is a reason RCV is so appealing to me. I petitioned to have my voting rights restored through the Governor's Office and it was granted after a lengthy wait in 2015. When I first began voting after civil rights restoration, I was quite offended when people told me I was, "wasting my vote," on an independent or minor party candidate. They had no idea how precious my right to vote was to me. I did not take it for granted. It was extremely demeaning for someone to tell me how I should or shouldn't be using that right. RCV allows me to fully express my preferences, after not having a voice in elections for many years of my adult life.
However, the two issues of RCV and Automatic Restoration are legislatively separate. I believe we can have both. Localities can adopt RCV now under current law AND they can advocate for new laws that allow for automatic restoration of civil rights.
3) The scope of the law that allows for the local adoption of RCV is too narrow.
Both supporters and opponents wondered why RCV wasn't being proposed for school board and mayor. Opponents were skeptical because of the limitation.
It was noted that any changes for how Mayor is elected in Richmond, would have to go through a charter amendment. One Councilor, said they would accept that all local offices below mayor be elected by RCV, if it were allowed.
The current law allowing the option for localities to adopt ranked choice voting for local elections is currently limited to City Councils and county Boards of Supervisor. This past legislative session, there were bills submitted that would have expanded the local option to more offices and that would have allowed political parties the option to use RCV in primaries, but they did not pass.
4) Councilor Jones noted that he did not like how some advocates were messaging RCV. He said they were using the argument that it could get certain people out of office.
FairVote Virginia does not condone this type of messaging around Ranked Choice Voting. We strive to keep our messaging positive and non-partisan and will continue to do so.
Here is what we believe about Ranked Choice Voting
Campaigns can be more civil and collaborative in RCV elections
RCV does not advance one party over another
It allows voters to fully express their preferences
RCV rewards the candidate that reaches out to and appeals to the most voters
It is more fair because it requires a majority to win
RCV has been shown to increase voter turnout and elect people that are reflective of the communities they serve
Polling shows that voters understand RCV and they like it
5) One opponent also noted that it goes against, "one person, one vote."
Here is an excerpt from President of Richmond Crusade for Voters Jonathan Davis' rebuttal to the Richmond NAACP's opposition to ranked choice voting, addressing this point:
"No, it does not [violate one person, one vote]. Ranked choice supports the idea of one person, one vote. Each person still has a vote in the final round.
The One-Person One-Vote Rule refers to the rule that one person’s voting power ought
to be roughly equivalent to another person’s within the same state. Reynolds v. Sims is the court case that established the one person, one vote principle. In summary: “State senate districts must have roughly equal populations based on the principle of "one person, one vote." That means each legislator would represent the roughly same number of people, allowing each person's vote to count equally.
In many ways, RCV upholds the precedent of “one person, one vote” better than the
choose-one voting method, because it gives voters the confidence to express their true
preference in an election while also ensuring they get an equal vote in the final results.
Court cases have shown that ranked choice voting keeps the integrity of the one person,
Stephenson v. Ann Arbor Board of Canvassers, Michigan Circuit Court, 1975
Minnesota Voters Alliance et al. v. the City of Minneapolis, et al., Supreme Court
of Minnesota, 2009"
What do we do now?
Richmond Ranked Choice Voting advocates will still attend the September 12th City Council meeting to speak during public comment period. We should thank City Council for considering the adoption of RCV, and giving it thorough discussion.
Additionally, we can ask City Councilors who expressed concern about the narrow scope of the enabling law to advocate for an expansion of the law in the 2023 Virginia General Assembly session. If they want to use RCV in school board elections, or if they'd like to amend the City Charter to use RCV for Mayor, they can only if state law enables them to do so.
Please continue to spread the word about ranked choice voting, write to local media, use RCV to elect leaders and make decisions in groups you belong to (RCV123.org), talk to your state senator and delegate about expanding the local option to use RCV for more offices, and consider supporting our work with a one-time or monthly recurring donation. Donate here.