Cox First to Appeal for Second Choice Votes

Former Speaker Kirk Cox. (Photo credit: Roanoke Times.)

by Steve Haner

Former House Speaker Kirk Cox is the first of the GOP candidates for Governor to take the expected step of asking explicitly for second choice votes.

“Delegates, the Republican convention is fast approaching,” he says in new video message.

“The Republican nomination for Governor has been spirited. Look, I understand I might not be everyone’s first choice. If I’m not your first choice, I’d really appreciate you putting me down as your second.”  

Virginia’s first great experiment in ranked choice voting begins. Two predictions: It will be a logistical nightmare on the day of voting. And the complaints about the count method will be just as loud, and perhaps more justified, than what we heard back in November and following.  

As a Henrico County delegate to the Republican Party May 8 “unassembled convention,” I will be lucky enough to have a short drive of only three miles to the West End county park building where voting will be underway. The short drive will probably be coupled with a long wait. From the East End of the county it will be a longer drive and a similar wait.

According to the email notification, 2,300 Henrico voters are officially registered as delegates. They will have seven hours, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., to cast their ballots, although one assumes those standing in line at 4 p.m. can still vote.  That is 325 votes per hour or more than five votes per minute.

Each voter will need to rank their choices among 17 candidates running in three races, and how they rank those votes will definitely matter. The slimy often untraceable mail that has been pouring into delegate mailboxes or inboxes from anonymous front groups may soon be replaced by explicit advice or sample ballots from campaigns on how to rank the votes.

I have no idea how many voting booths the Henrico committee has planned for, but no way will it maintain a pace of five or six ballots per minute sustained over seven hours. Even if you have a sample ballot to copy walking in, it will take time to fill in the blanks. Many people will have questions, and some might show a bit of irritation. Just a guess.

People with religious objections to such activity on a Saturday will now be allowed to cast ballots on Friday afternoon, if they so request. They forced enough State Central Committee members to backtrack after taking a national beating for initially refusing an alternate method and getting tagged as anti-Jewish. But that won’t be enough early voters to speed up Saturday’s voting traffic jams.

Here is the list of almost 40 polling locations around the state. In Fairfax County, the National Right to Work Committee building along I-495 will be host to all the delegates from Alexandria, Arlington, and Falls Church. That is going to snarl traffic badly. All Fairfax County and Fairfax City voters will need to go the Northern Virginia Community College on Little River Turnpike.

Along with being dragged into allowing early voting for certain groups, the State Central Committee also made a late change in the counting method. Tens of thousands of individual paper ballots will be brought to central count operation in Richmond, and with the ranked choice process it may take days to determine an outcome.

A proposed computer-based counting system was rejected by State Central. It is amazing somebody thought they could sell that to a bunch of people still convinced a computer algorithm robbed Donald Trump.

Cox will likely be joined by others with a message saying rank them number two if you cannot rank them number one. What will be interesting is if there are also efforts to drive down the ranking of the stronger competitors, or to leave them with no ranking on the ballot.

Given how polarizing she has been, State Senator Amanda Chase may get that treatment despite her high name identification. But individual campaigns may instead recommend low rankings or no ranking for other top contenders. Based on the negative mail coming into our home mailbox, Cox and Northern Virginia businessman Glenn Youngkin are the perceived front runners.

Nobody is spending dollars to attack Chase in mailings or on television, perhaps a telling point. And perhaps a mistake, since it is fairly clear this whole Rube Goldberg contraption was intended to prevent her from winning a primary with a plurality.

The ranked choice vote is one complication for the count process. The other will be calculating the weight of the various votes by locality.  Because Henrico county has more than five delegates signed up for each of its official 429 votes in the convention process, each of us will be casting about two-tenths of a vote for our favorite (or against those we rank low.)

Most of the major localities are in the same situation, with each completed ballot counting as far less than a whole vote. If there is drop-off on the down ticket races for Lieutenant Governor and Attorney General (and that is likely given less advertising), each locality’s votes for them will need to be recalculated.

So do not hang by your computer or follow your Twitter feeds Saturday night, or even Sunday, looking for results. If you want reliable results in a timely fashion where voting lines move more rapidly and every vote counts the same, well that would be a primary. Today’s Virginia Republicans rank that process very low.