OneVirginia2021 relaunches as UpVote Virginia with new focus on ranked voting

The nonpartisan group that led the charge to reform Virginia’s redistricting process is reviving with a broader focus on “democracy reform” and a push for more selective voting.

The next iteration of OneVirginia2021, which has spent years advocating to take redistricting power away from the General Assembly and give it to a more politically neutral map-drawing commission, will be called UpVote Virginia, according to an announcement from the group on Tuesday. morning.

In the organization’s launch video, executive director Liz White, who served in the same role at OneVirginia2021, called the new initiative a way to build on recent reforms that have made it easier for Virginians to vote and produced “some the fairest legislative maps in the world”. America.”

“It seems like every day there are stories about how our representative democracy is failing voters. There is extreme polarization, legislative deadlock and no incentive for our elected officials to come together to address the issues we face,” White said. “But here in Virginia, voters are already rising up and making change by focusing on fundamental, nonpartisan solutions that can improve our democracy.”

OneVirginia2021, which was founded in 2014, was pushed back for its role in implementing a new redistricting process that some Democratic critics said was deeply flawed, but nonpartisan experts generally gave Congress‘s legislative cards high marks for partisan fairness. The new maps – which were drawn by experts under the supervision of the Virginia Supreme Court after the bipartisan redistricting commission collapsed in a partisan stalemate – have not been challenged in court, despite claims by critics , the new process has not done enough to end race and partisan gerrymandering.

White said his group’s new mission will also include promoting transparency and ethics in government, encouraging voter participation and advocating for a more independent redistricting commission after failed efforts. of the 2021 commission due to a partisan deadlock, a failure that shifted the process to the Supreme Court.

But ranked voting, which is already used in several other states, was the key topic discussed during Tuesday’s bipartisan rollout.

Former Gov. George Allen, a Republican, touted the Virginia GOP’s successful use of choice voting at its nominating convention last year, which produced a statewide slate of candidates that swept the 2021 elections.

“It brought unity,” Allen said of the GOP’s nominating method. “There was respect for the process.”

The Virginia Republican Party was able to implement ranked voting under its own rules for the party’s 2021 convention. The system is currently not an option for open, government-run primary elections for state offices.

Speaking after Allen, U.S. Representative Don Beyer, D-Alexandria, spoke of the need to strengthen democracy after watching “a former president and his allies attempt to overturn a free and fair election” and the rise of a ” extreme polarization” and distrust of institutions.

“It’s a question that really puts the will of the voters first,” Beyer said of the ranked ballot.

Skeptics of ranked voting have argued that it is too complicated and cumbersome, and some doubt that voters and candidates would find the change as smooth as supporters believe.

The concept, which allows voters to rank the candidates they prefer instead of voting for just one person, is often touted as a way to reduce negative campaigning and encourage candidates to appeal to a wide range of voters instead of the staunchest supporters.

Preferential voting is already on the books for local elections in Virginia, but localities haven’t rushed to adopt it during the COVID-19 pandemic. No city or county implemented the system after the General Assembly passed legislation in 2020, making it an option. A handful of localities are considering switching to ranked voting, and UpVote Virginia says it will work to encourage more local officials to adopt it.

Of the. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, who sponsored the ranked voting legislation, also organized a nonprofit group, Ranked Choice Virginia, to raise awareness of the option.

Last year, the Virginia State Board of Elections approved regulations presenting the finer details of preferential voting, including the layout of ballots, counting procedures, and voter education materials explaining how the system works.

Speaking at the launch event for the new group, Danielle Allen, director of Harvard University’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Ethics and former Democratic candidate for governor of Massachusetts, said the preferential vote can also encourage “non-traditional candidates” to come forward. for the office

“A lot of people felt left out of voice and choice,” Allen said. “And preferential voting is the answer to this problem.”

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