by Brandon Jarvis

Gov. Glenn Youngkin vetoed legislation passed by the General Assembly that would have codified parts of the legal process in Ranked Choice Voting across Virginia. The bill was intended to address concerns from the Department of Elections about the RCV system that is already in place for localities to use.

Youngkin cites confusion in the process for voters as his reason for the veto, but Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, says the Department of Elections asked for the specific aspects of this bill with a report in December to help provide clarity and address legal concerns.

“SB428 started as a small expansion of rank choice voting for localities (dropped from the final bill) but more importantly became a bill to address the Department of Election’s legal concerns,” he said in a statement to Virginia Scope.

In 2020, the General Assembly and Governor Northam approved the optional use of RCV voting in elections for city and county governing bodies until July 1, 2031.

In a report completed by the Department of Elections after Arlington’s primary election last year, they describe their concerns in depth.

“Though no locality immediately opted to use RCV upon adoption of the RCV statute, ELECT began taking measures towards implementation,” the report says. “In addition to internal efforts, ELECT sought the input of key stakeholders, including general registrars and electoral boards members. The more recent development of procedures came in preparation for the first use of RCV by Arlington County in 2023. As part of the development of RCV processes and procedures, it became clear that amendments were necessary to the existing RCV regulations”

The report identified two problems that occurred ahead of the first RCV election in Arlington: voter outreach to educate voters of the process and the method of tabulation used in the multi-winner election.

Arlington officials opted not to use RCV in the November general elections so that they would have more time to work on these issues.

The legislation would have codified the actions needed to address these concerns and other potential legal issues.

“The bill made a series of changes the Department asked for to ensure for a smoother and more legally sound process for ranked-choice voting,” VanValkenburg said. “This bill was about sound governance. By vetoing the bill the Governor repudiated his own department and its report and failed to make the legal changes that would make our elections more sound.”

In his veto statement, Youngkin described the RCV process as confusing. The amended legislation, however, would not have expanded the process already in place. It would have codified a process to help with the confusion, which is part of what the Department of Elections asked for in their report.

“RCV is new in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and nationwide. Concerns have been raised about its use in general elections where some voters have found it confusing,” Youngkin wrote. “A heightened risk of mistakenly erroneous ballot submissions raises concerns about disenfranchisement and an increased lack of voter confidence in election results. Before RCV is further institutionalized and regulated at the Virginia Department of Elections, the legitimate questions of voters need to be answered.”

Legislators meet April 17 to take up the governor’s amendments and potentially override his vetoes.

However, this bill only passed 21-19 in the Senate, making it unlikely that the chamber will reach the two-thirds majority necessary to override a veto.

By vascope