Editorial – Good news on fair elections

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, August 16, 2022

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You wouldn’t know it based on some of the extreme rhetoric out of Richmond some days, but bipartisanship is alive and well in Virginia.

After a long, ultimately successful push to remove partisanship from congressional and legislative redistricting, a group formerly called OneVirginia2021 announced Tuesday that it will continue under a new brand, expanding its nonpartisan work on the important cause of fair elections.

UpVote Virginia, as the nonpartisan group will now be called, is “dedicated to ensuring that Virginia leads the way in improving the structure of our electoral system to better reflect the will of voters, thus providing for a more representative, inclusive, open and transparent government,” its members said in a news release.

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The highly regarded Liz White, who will continue as executive director, said in a launch video that “in Virginia, voters are standing up and affecting change by focusing on foundational, nonpartisan solutions that can improve our democracy. Now it’s time to build on this momentum and set the stage for years to come.”

OneVirginia2021 worked for the better part of a decade to take redistricting out of the hands of partisan politicians and turn it over to an independent commission. While even that commission couldn’t agree on congressional and legislative maps, their backup, the Virginia Supreme Court, stepped in last year and did a masterful job on new maps. You knew the court’s map drawers had done a good job when both Republicans and Democrats whined about the outcome.

Under its new name of UpVote Virginia, the group has new, specific goals. Two political heavyweights gave Tuesday’s launch credibility. Former Republican Gov. George Allen and current U.S. Rep. Don Beyer, D-Virginia, were both on hand and used the opportunity to endorse the group’s new signature priority, ranked choice voting.

We’ve long been intrigued by the concept, which is used in a number of places across the country. Instead of only choosing one candidate, voters rank their order of preference: first, second, third, etc. In races with more than two people on the ballot, this creates an instant runoff, with the lowest-ranked candidate getting eliminated, and voters who selected that candidate instead have their second-choice votes counted. The winner is ultimately declared when a candidate receives over 50% of the first place votes that are counted.

Allen noted a Virginia law allowing localities to adopt a ranked choice voting pilot program “was supported by the most conservative Republicans, moderates and the most liberal Democrats. And that’s because this doesn’t benefit one party over another. It benefits the voters; the people of Virginia (because) their will is better reflected.”

Beyer added: “George Allen and I aren’t always at the same events, but ranked choice voting brings people together, no matter their political leanings. This is an issue that puts the will of the voters front and center. I’ve been a strong supporter of democracy reform for a long time, (because) we know how tenuous and fragile American democracy can be.”

We’re not ready to endorse statewide implementation of the voting method just yet, but the fact that UpVote Virginia, Allen and Beyer are behind it increases the likelihood we will do so.