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 travel to one of over 30 voting locations around the state to cast their votes.
The other big difference in this year’s nomination process is the use of Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The intent is to have the nominee selected by majority vote – defined as 50 percent of votes cast plus one. Because there are officially seven candidates for the Republican nomination for Governor, six candidates vying to be the candidate for Lieutenant Governor, 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 vied for the Lieutenant Governor nomination at the 2013 GOP convention. None of the candidates garnered 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 on the ballot. Because it was a tightly contested race, round after round of balloting continued until the final ballot between the last two candidates still in the running was finally held at around midnight – fourteen hours after the convention began.
The idea behind Ranked Choice Voting is to avoid having the delegates hang around their respective voting locations all day waiting for each successive ballot to be held. Instead, RCV allows delegates to “rank” the candidates in the order in which they each would like to see the respective candidates be the nominee.
As an example, in a six-person race one delegate selects Boris Norris as her first choice. [Obviously, all names in this example are fictitious.] But on the unfortunate chance that Boris is dropped from the ballot at some point, the delegate lists Betty Getty as her second choice. Then the delegate lists William Williams and Addie Gaddy as her third and fourth choices respectively, followed by Ha Chu in fifth. The delegate can then put a six by Ramona Pomona, her least favorite candidate, or just leave the space blank.
On the first round, Boris Norris gets this delegate’s vote. After the votes have all been tabulated, no candidate has gotten a majority, so the two lowest vote-getters, William Williams and Ramona Pomona are dropped from the ballot. Now instead of making all the delegates come back and vote again, the tellers simply take the ballots that put William and Ramona as their first choice and give them to the candidates who were marked as the second choice – on the assumption that the delegates would have voted for their second choice candidates if they had actually cast a second ballot. The same for those ballots that listed Ramona as first choice. In the event that a ballot had William as first choice and Ramona as second choice or vice versa, the ballot would go to the candidate who was marked as the third choice, since neither William or Ramona was still in the running.
If no candidate receives a majority of the vote on the second round of counting, the lowest scoring candidate 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 took time to cast ballots can then get on with their day.
Some have voiced the opinion that RCV is a way to manipulate the 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 SCC 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 delegates as possible to make their voices heard in the nominating process.
Every candidate will have observers at each 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, but also to find delegates who will list them as their second or third choice in case the first choice is not a high vote-getter. Every candidate’s hardcore 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, Ph.D.