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Youngkin Vetoes ‘Disastrous’ Bill Expanding Ranked-Choice Voting In Virginia

‘A heightened risk of mistakenly erroneous ballot submissions raises concerns about disenfranchisement and an increased lack of voter confidence in election results.’


Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed a Democrat-backed bill Monday aimed at expanding the use of ranked-choice voting (RCV) in Virginia elections.

“A heightened risk of mistakenly erroneous ballot submissions raises concerns about disenfranchisement and an increased lack of voter confidence in election results,” Youngkin wrote. “Before RCV is further institutionalized and regulated at the Virginia Department of Elections, the legitimate questions of voters need to be answered.”

Under RCV, which critics often refer to as “rigged-choice voting,” voters rank candidates in order of preference. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes in the first round of voting, the last-place finisher is eliminated, and his votes reallocated to voters’ second-choice candidates. The process continues until one candidate receives a majority of votes.

Passed by the Democrat-controlled General Assembly earlier this year, Senate Bill 428 sought to normalize RCV in commonwealth elections by requiring the State Board of Elections to develop “standards for vote tabulating software for use with existing voting systems in elections conducted by ranked choice voting.” As Daniel Brubaker explained in these pages, the bill instructs “the State Board of Elections to create voter education materials on RCV, publish these on their website, and assist localities deciding to use RCV in developing voter education materials on that topic.”

Ranked-choice voting software companies would also be invited to apply for accreditation with the State Elections Board. Meanwhile, damaged ballots unable to “go through the machine … will not be hand counted,” but replaced with a new “substitute ballot [that matches] the original as best as possible,” according to Brubaker.

In his veto, Youngkin noted RCV is “new in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nationwide,” and further highlighted “concerns” about its “use in general elections where some voters have found it confusing.”

Arlington County — a Democrat-stronghold neighboring Washington, D.C. — cited similar problems after using the system for its county board primaries last June. According to Virginia Mercury, “the County Board opted not to implement ranked-choice voting in its general elections for board seats in November, pointing to confusion about the process and concerns about whether outreach efforts were translating to diverse support for the new system.”

Despite these issues, the Arlington County Board announced in February that RCV will be used during the locality’s June primaries and November general elections. The system will only be employed for board elections, not the presidential or congressional contests.

Election Transparency Initiative Chair Ken Cuccinelli applauded Youngkin for “protecting the ideal of one person, one vote counted fairly, equally, and honestly.”

“This is the foundational tenant [sic] of free and fair elections Americans expect and deserve,” Cuccinelli said in a statement. “But Left-wing, anti-Election Integrity megadonors are financing a nationwide campaign to promote the disastrous Ranked-Choice Voting scheme intended to dramatically push our politics to the Left, to elevate Left-leaning politicians, and to weaken political parties to their benefit.”

RCV’s Many Problems

As Cuccinelli noted, RCV has been primarily promoted by Democrats. A study published by the Foundation for Government Accountability last year, for instance, found that, of the 74 pro-RCV bills introduced in state legislatures last year, 57 “had only Democrat sponsors.” Meanwhile, “just eight percent of the total bills received bipartisan support,” with Republicans introducing 16 of the 17 bills opposing ranked-choice voting.

RCV has also led to widespread voter disenfranchisement in states and localities where it’s been used. The FGA study found that RCV ballots are often discarded due to “ballot exhaustion,” a term used to describe when voters select only one candidate on their ballot and those ballots are tossed because their first choice didn’t win a majority in the first round. In Alaska’s 2022 special congressional election, for example, more than 11,000 “exhausted” ballots were thrown out because those electors “voted for only one Republican candidate and no one else.”

RCV has also produced election results that contradict voters’ desires. Some of these examples include the aforementioned special congressional election in Alaska and a 2018 Maine congressional contest. The Democrat candidates won both races despite Republican candidates receiving more votes in the first round of voting.

While Maine and Alaska are currently the only states that use the system for statewide races, electors in Nevada and Oregon will vote on pro-RCV ballot measures during their respective elections this November. An initiative repealing Alaska’s RCV system will appear on the state’s 2024 general election ballot.

States currently prohibiting the use of RCV for elections include Florida, Idaho, Tennessee, Montana, and South Dakota. Legislators in Missouri, Louisiana, Alabama, Oklahoma, and Ohio are also considering barring its use.

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