Charlottesville (VA) Democrats use IRV to nominate candidates in high turnout open caucus

by Rob Richie // Published May 12, 2009

The Democratic Party of Charlottesville (VA) on Saturday, May 9, for the first-time held an "open caucus" -- essentially a privately financed primary at eight polling places -- to select its nominees for city council and sheriff. To ensure that its winners had majority support without asking voters to return to the polls, the Democrats used instant runoff voting for the first time.

Party officials were surprised by a larger-than-expected turnout of close to 1,600 voters, nearly four times the participation in their last nominating caucus, and the local weekly The Hook said the results had "shaken the local Democratic establishment." A Local non-profit organization called Charlottesville Tomorrow produced excellent coverage of the elections, including a podcast featuring interviews with local leaders and voters that included explanations of the role of instant runoff voting. The local newspaper Charlottesville Daily Progress also covered the elections. The Hook did informative stories about the "firehouse primary" and the instant runoff process with stories before and after the election.

There were two incumbents and one challenger running for two nominations in the city council race. Incumbent mayor David Norris and challenger Kristin Szakos won, with incumbent Julian Taliaferro trailing in third.

As in the recent Aspen city council elections, voters awarded a single first, second and third choice, and their first and second choices were counted as equal votes in in the initial round -- see a sample ballot. With both Norris and Szakos appearing on a majority of ballots as a first or second choice, no instant runoff was needed.

[caption id="" align="alignleft" width="378" caption="Lining up for instant runoff "firehouse primary""]Charlottesville voters line up for instant runoff firehouse primary[/caption]

The sheriff's race was a traditional instant runoff voting election. Three candidates ran. No candidate won an initial majority. In the instant runoff, Albemarle police officer James E. Brown III defeated veteran sheriff's Capt. Mike Baird after Phillip Brown was defeated in the first round .

The final tallies for the purpose of calculating the nominations were adjusted to weight different precincts, but closely tracked the actual votes cast. Here are the vote totals.

Democratic Contest, Sheriff of Charlottesville (VA)

Candidates First Round......................... Instant Runoff James Brown 744 (47%) +95 839 (54.5%) wins Mike Baird 661 (42%) +40 701 (45.5%) Phillip Brown 177 (11%) -177 x Exhausted Ballots +42

Winning sheriff candidate James Brown