When it comes to the instant-runoff method of voting, it truly isn’t over ’til it’s over.
Just ask a delicious but ultimately ill-fated cheesecake, which was leading through four rounds of a just-for-kicks primer on the ranked-choice-voting method conducted by the League of Women Voters of Arlington and Alexandria City.
Held as part of the organization’s annual meeting on June 12 in Shirlington, the vote asked participants to select their favorites from among eight culinary choices – six desserts and two vegetable plates – plus (just to add to the mix) a number of write-in options.
Attendees were asked to rank up to their five favorites. The election was then conducted instant-runoff-style, with low-scoring selections eliminated until a winner emerged with more than 50 percent of the total vote.
To perhaps nobody’s surprise, the vegetable options were never major factors in contention, leaving the dessert items – petit fours, cake pops, apple tarts, double-chunk chocolate cookies, sugar cookies and the aforementioned cheesecake – battling for support.
(The desserts and veggie platters were supplied by the hotel where the event took place; on hand to observe the proceedings and offer feedback was Gretchen Reinemeyer, Arlington’s general registrar.)
The cheesecake entry led most of the way, but in the fifth and final round, with all but two options eliminated, a flip happened. The double-chunk cookies pulled ahead, 13-11, and won the race.
It was all in fun, just another way to begin educating the public on a voting method that may be coming their way, like it or not, sooner rather than later.
Two years ago, the Arlington government was given permission by the General Assembly to switch from the current winner-take-all races for County Board to an instant-runoff format. Supporters say going that direction is likely to (a) ensure more comity during elections, as candidates are trying to appeal to all voters, not just their most rabid supporters; and (b) ensure that the ultimate winner in a race has a majority of support, rather than garnering a smaller percentage in a multi-candidate field.
County Board members have not yet implemented the format – critics have rapped the delay – but it could be put in place in 2023.
Though unlikely to have much impact on the current Democratic hold on county governance, moving to an instant-runoff format could have a more significant effect in Democratic primaries, which currently are conducted as winner-take-all events but also could be switched to the instant-runoff format.
Democrats already use an instant-runoff election for their School Board endorsement caucuses, and in 2020 saw a candidate initially in the lead fall to another after several rounds when other candidates were dropped and their votes reallocated.
Earlier that same year, in a Democratic caucus called in the wake of the death of incumbent County Board member Erik Gutshall, the candidate leading in the first round was supplanted in later ballots.