To some, politics is a cherished civic duty; to others, it’s a spectator sport; and to others, it’s a frustrating, exhausting, and confusing thing that dominates our news cycles and intrudes on our peace of mind. In today’s climate, it’s easy to feel like things are overwhelming or even hopeless. “Our system is broken” is a common refrain we’ve all heard from neighbors and friends, and indeed trust in our political system is at an all-time low.
However, two locals say they’ve found an alternative, and they’re organizing to make it happen. James Shull and Travis Davidson are advocating for Ranked Choice Voting across the Hampton Roads region. James says it has the “profound ability to change” the political system, but many Americans don’t know what it is.
What is Ranked Choice Voting?
Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) is a method of voting in which voters can rank candidates in order of preference: first, second, third, and so forth. Votes that do not help voters’ top choices win count towards their next-highest choice of candidate. In other words, RCV is an iterative process, and if no candidate gets a majority of the vote, they are dropped from the election. Their support is reallocated among the remaining candidates until one person has at least 50% of the vote.
The current voting system is closer to “plurality rule” rather than “majority rule.” In most states, the winning candidate is the one who receives the most votes, regardless of if they earned 50%. In two states (Louisiana and Georgia), a runoff election is required if no candidate gets 50% of the vote during the first election, and then it’s a contest between the top two candidates. For elections with more than two candidates, this is a great way to end up with a “winner” who only had minority support.
By requiring at least 50% of votes to win, RCV reveals winners who are actually representative of their constituents. And to get reelected, candidates must serve a broader slice of the public rather than pandering to a small segment of voters. RCV re-incentivizes listening to the people – after all, that person who ranked you as their third choice could be the deciding vote.
Advocates say that RCV encourages more positive, policy-based campaigning; lends itself to coalition building; and lets voters support someone they feel good about rather than the lesser of two evils. Instead of worrying about “spoiled” or “wasted” votes or voting for an uninspiring candidate because they may have the best chance of winning the “big” election, voters would express much more nuance in their votes. Middle grounds, more choices, and deeper discussions could be the result if the movement gains steam.
RCV in Norfolk
In 2020, Virginia passed legislation that allows city councils and county boards of supervisors to adopt ranked choice voting for local elections. Delegate Glenn Davis (R-VB) proposed legislation last year to advance RCV in Virginia. The bill, VA HB129, was tabled but is up for review in the General Assembly session. Shull and Davidson say that in Norfolk, Delegate Jackie Glass and Councilwoman Andria McClellan have expressed support for RCV.
RCV has already caused some political upsets, such as Alaska’s special election for U.S. Representative, in which a Democrat beat out two Republican candidates. But, Travis points out, “RCV was also the strategy of the Virginia Republican Party, which used it to nominate Youngkin, Sears, and Miyares, and produce an electable ticket that Republicans could rally around.” RCV is a bipartisan, or, one could say, nonpartisan, method of holding elections.
James Shull and Travis Davidson are the faces of the RCV effort in Norfolk. James served 22 years in the military, first in the Army and then in the Coast Guard. After getting out, he got involved with two organizations: Veterans for Political Innovation, and Fair Vote Virginia. He was disheartened by the national political discourse and wanted to make a positive change. Travis is a local bicycle advocate, a member of Bike Norfolk and the Virginia Bicycling Federation Board of Directors, as well as the Regional Campaign Lead for Hampton Roads RCV. He, too, was tired of “politics as usual” and wanted to change it for the better. Together (or individually), they will speak to any local group that wants to learn about RCV and say they have been getting warm receptions from both Republican and Democratic-leaning organizations.
“RCV really spoke to me as an election innovation with the potential to heal our crumbling democratic process,” said James. “For reference, the last real election’ innovation’ was the party primary election, which began in the early 1900s.”
Davidson says their “goal is to take RCV from a novelty to a reality. This is creating a structural change that can reorient the political process back towards ideas, discussion, and problem-solving.”
James and Travis invite interested locals to write to Norfolk City Council, state Delegates, and state Senators to ask for RCV. “Nothing will happen if we don’t speak up,” said James.
You can also get involved with RCV Norfolk directly by emailing them at email@example.com.
Catie was born in Norfolk and as an adult has lived here for two years and change. She has a master's in Environmental Planning and Design from the University of Georgia. She likes hiking, playing trivia, being a flaneuse, pinball, memes, and growing vegetables.