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Troxel: Ranked choice voting explained

Troxel: Ranked choice voting explained

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Virginia Republicans will select their nominees for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General this year in a manner that has left a few Republican a bit nonplussed.

The Republican Party of Virginia’s State Central Committee (SCC) has chosen to host an “unassembled” convention. This means that delegates will not assemble at a central location but will instead vote at one of more than 30 voting locations around the state.

The other big difference in this year’s nomination process is the use of ranked choice voting (RCV). Republicans will select their nominee by majority vote – defined as 50% of votes cast plus one. Because seven individuals are running for the Republican nomination for Governor, six candidates for the Lieutenant Governor nomination and four candidates for the nomination for Attorney General, the likelihood of one candidate for each office winning a majority vote on the first ballot is too small to contemplate.

Seven candidates fought for the Lieutenant Governor nomination at the 2013 GOP convention. None of them gained a majority on the first ballot. Under the rules of that convention, the two candidates who garnered the fewest votes were dropped from the ballot, and the delegates voted again among the five remaining candidates. When there was still no majority winner, the lowest vote-getter in that round of balloting was dropped, and delegates voted for one of the four candidates remaining. Because it was a tightly contested race, round after lengthy round of balloting continued until the nominee was finally announced around midnight – 14 hours after the convention began.

Ranked choice voting is designed to keep delegates from having to spend their whole day at their respective voting locations waiting for each successive ballot to be held. Instead, RCV allows delegates to “rank” the candidates on their individual ballots in the order in which they each would like to see the respective candidates be the nominee.

If no candidate receives a majority vote on the second round of counting, the lowest scoring candidate in that round is dropped, and the process repeats until one candidate receives a majority of the votes cast for the desired office. The time-consuming part of the process is in the tabulation, but only a relatively few volunteers are required to stay the whole day to count the results. The delegates who made the effort to cast ballots can then get on with their day.

Some have voiced the opinion that RCV is a way to manipulate an election. That is not the case at all. There is nothing in the RCV methodology that would give one candidate an advantage over another. The Republican’s SCC majority has been very clear that they are focused on giving every candidate an equal shot at the nomination in a fair and transparent process that also allows as many Republican delegates as possible to make their voices heard in the nominating process.

Every candidate will have observers at each voting location and at the main tabulation center to protect their interests. Every candidate has an equal opportunity to sign up as many delegates as possible who will make them their first choice. One twist to RCV is that even though a delegate may have committed to make another candidate their first choice, candidates can lobby those same delegates to select them as their second or third choice in case the first choice does not get enough votes to remain in the process.

Every candidate’s supporters can be sure that even though RCV will not provide an advantage to their candidate, neither will it impede their ability to win. And that’s the way it should be.

Steve “Doc” Troxel, who lives in Lynchburg, is a columnist for The News Virginian. He is a retired university professor who writes a weekly email on political issues. To subscribe to his email, contact him at His column is published every other Monday.

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