In just over 3 weeks, Arlington Democrats will hold a caucus — see the “flip” for all the details from ACDC chair Mike Lieberman — to determine the Democratic nominee for Arlington County Board (to fill Senator-elect Barbara Favola’s soon-to-be-vacant seat). Expected turnout for the caucus is around 4,000 voters, depending on weather, etc. Given that the current population of Arlington is 200,000, that turnout will represent approximately 2% of Arlingtonians.
That’s bad enough, considering that whoever wins this caucus is highly likely to be the next Arlington County Board Member For Life (I say this because, in heavily Democratic Arlington, there’s essentially zero chance of a Republican beating the Democrat, and also because once people are elected to the Board, they are basically there forever, barring political appointment, retirement, or untimely demise).
But it’s actually even worse than that, as the winner of this caucus only needs to achieve a plurality of the voters participating. Given that there are six candidates running, this means that the caucus winner will probably get somewhere in the 20%-30% range of those 4,000 votes, or perhaps 800-1,200 votes. In other words, it is highly likely that the next Arlington County Board Member For Life will be selected by just 0.4%-0.6% of Arlingtonians. To put it another way, more than 99% of Arlingtonians will NOT participate in selecting the next County Board Member For Life.
Now, before I get to my proposal for “majority rules” and instant runoff voting (IRV), let me just be clear: the fact that such a tiny percentage of Arlingtonians will likely select the next County Board Member For Life is above all the choice of the 99%+ of Arlingtonians who don’t get off their…uh, keisters…and vote. Same thing with any other election, by the way. Of course, these same people will probably complain about how things are going in Arlington, but do they even do the bare minimum in a Democracy, which is to exercise their right to vote? Nope.
Sadly, pathetically low turnout does not just take place in County Board Democratic caucuses, but in important statewide primaries as well. In the 2005 primaries, for instance, turnout was only 2.6% for a tightly contested Democratic primary for Lieutenant Governor (between Chap Petersen, Viola Baskerville, Phil Puckett, and Leslie Byrne). In that same election, there was only 3.9% turnout for an important Republican primary for LG between Bill Bolling and Sean Connaughton. Oh, and the 2006 Webb-Miller primary? Try turnout of 3.5%. Horrible.
In sum, people just don’t turn out for non-general elections in Virginia, with the possible exception of particularly exciting presidential primaries, like the Democratic one in 2008. Other than that, though, people simply don’t care enough to get off their…uh, keisters…and vote!
Sadly, this appears to be the state of affairs, probably for the foreseeable future. It sucks, but that’s the way it is, and I’m not arguing that we can change the world here. Instead, what I AM arguing is that we should at least require the winner of the Democratic caucus for Arlington County Board to achieve a majority (50%+) of the vote, and that the most efficient way to go about this in a 6-person field is through use of an IRV system.
Voters rank candidates in order of preference, and their ballots are counted as one vote for their first choice candidate. If a candidate secures a majority of votes cast, that candidate wins. Otherwise, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. A new round of counting takes place, with each ballot counted as one vote for the advancing candidate who is ranked highest on that ballot. This process continues until the winning candidate receives a majority of the vote against the remaining candidates.
This is not an original idea, as IRV’s been used successfully in Charlottesville (with “seven candidates for three City Council spots”). And, according to the former chair of the C-ville Democratic Party, “I wasn’t really a fan at first, but I am now.” Why? Because it worked well (“people only needed to spend 15 minutes to vote…over 2,500 people participated“).
Now, it may very well be too late to institute the majority requirement plus IRV for the January 19/21 Arlington County Board Democratic caucus. I’m open to that argument, although certainly not convinced. However, regardless of what’s decided for this caucus, that’s no reason for Arlington Democrats not to move towards an IRV/majority system for future caucuses (for School Board, County Board, etc.). At least then, whatever the turnout happens to be – and I strongly encourage everyone to get off their…uh, keisters…and vote – we can be assured that the winner will have achieved a majority, not just a plurality of 20%, 25%, whatever. Is there any good reason not to do this? I’m all ears.
P.S. Two-term ACDC Chair Peter Rousselot tells me he thinks that IRV is a good idea that should be discussed now. Furthermore, Peter believes that such a system should be put into place as soon as possible, “assuming the logistical and voting security issues can be worked out.” Needless to say, I agree with Peter.
ACDC Elected Officials, Steering Committee, and County Board Candidates,
Since learning that we would have to change our caucus date late Wednesday, our Caucus Director Terry Serie has been working hard to evaluate potential caucus locations across Arlington for our proposed new caucus dates of January 19 and January 21. I wanted to let you know that after completing this evaluation, Terry and I will be recommending to the steering committee that the caucus location be held Thursday, January 19, 2012 from 7:00pm to 9:00pm at Washington-Lee High School and Saturday, January 21, 2012 from 11:00am to 7:00pm at Kenmore Middle School. It is important to emphasize that these recommendations are subject to steering committee approval and possible amendment at our December 28, 2011 meeting, but for planning purposes and for any communications you have between now and then, I wanted to let you know that this will be my and Terry’s recommendation.
In addition, in light of the compressed campaign schedule, I wanted to let you know that ACDC is planning to host a candidate forum for announced County Board candidates as part of our January 4, 2012 ACDC meeting, which will be held at the NRECA building in Ballston (4301 Wilson Blvd.) at our usual time (7:00pm). We will be circulating rules for this candidate forum to candidates upon approval of such rules by our steering committee on December 28.
As I mentioned on Wednesday, the court’s and Electoral Board’s decisions on the filing deadlines and special election dates for County Board, which prompted our need to change our own caucus dates, were unexpected. We very much appreciate your continued understanding and flexibility as we strive to make the best of this situation. If you have any questions or concerns, I remain available to discuss them at xxx-xxx-xxxx.
Thanks, and happy holidays to all.