Members of D.C.’s Capital Stonewall Democrats, the city’s largest local LGBTQ political group, received a briefing Monday night from the chief of staff for D.C. Council member Christina Henderson (I-At Large) on a bill she introduced in July calling for a “ranked choice” voting system for D.C. elections.
The bill, called the Voter Ownership, Integrity, Choice, and Equity (VOICE) Amendment Act of 2021, calls for D.C. to join about 50 other jurisdictions across the country, including New York City and San Francisco, in giving voters the option of ranking up to five candidates for a particular office in the order of their preference.
Under the ranked choice voting system, if a candidate receives more than 50 percent of the “first choice” votes, the candidate is declared the winner. But if no candidate receives greater than 50 percent of the first-choice votes in a race where there are three or more candidates, the system provides an instant runoff.
“The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate will have their votes count for their next choice,” according to a statement released by Henderson at the time she introduced the legislation. “This process continues in rounds until there’s a majority winner,” the statement says.
T.J. Maloney, Henderson’s chief of staff, told Capital Stonewall Democrats members during a virtual Zoom meeting that studies of the ranked choice voting system in jurisdictions where it has been adopted show that overall voter turnout has increased and, following a voter education process, voters appear to adjust and support the system.
Six other D.C. Council members joined Henderson in co-introducing the VOICE ranked choice voting bill, indicating it may already have a seven-vote majority in its favor on the 13-member Council. However, Council Chair Phil Mendelson (D-At-Large) does not support the current version of the bill, according to spokesperson Lindsay Walton.
Council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), the chair of the Council’s Judiciary Committee where the bill was sent, has not scheduled a hearing on the bill, even though Allen is one of the bill’s co-introducers.
Last week, the D.C. Democratic State Committee, which is the governing body of the D.C. Democratic Party and of which the Capital Stonewall Democrats is an affiliated member, voted to oppose the VOICE Act legislation. Some of its members said they believe a ranked choice voting system would be beneficial to the city’s smaller political party candidates, including Republicans and Statehood Green Party candidates, and would place Democratic Party candidates at a disadvantage.
Gay Democratic activist John Fanning, who was an unsuccessful candidate for the Ward 2 D.C. Council seat in the 2020 D.C. Democratic primary, said he favors a simple runoff election system over a ranked choice voting system in cases where multiple candidates run, and none receive at least 50 percent of the vote.
Among the ranked choice bill’s supporters is gay Democratic activist Austin Naughton, who serves as chair of the Ward 2 Democratic Committee. Naughton told the Washington Blade he is not an expert on the ranked choice voting system but his initial research into the system leads him to believe the system has the potential for providing a greater electoral voice for minority communities, including possibly the LGBTQ community and LGBTQ candidates who run for public office.
Capital Stonewall Democrats President Jatarious Frazier said the group was in the process of learning more about the ranked file voting system. No one raised the issue of the group taking a position on the legislation at Monday night’s meeting.