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The Virginia Republican Party is livestreaming the counting of ballots from its nominating convention.

Virginia GOP embraces election changes at nominating convention

The Virginia Republican Party held the nominating contest for the state's off-year elections over the weekend. While the nominees for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general may not be known for a few days, advocates for election changes can point to a handful of victories.

Unlike presidential primaries in Virginia, which are open to all voters, the nominating process for statewide office is closed to select party loyalists. This year, approximately 50,000 were expected to cast a ballot at the Republican convention — if it could even be called a "convention." Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the party did not hold a central gathering; instead, participants were directed to cast their votes, from their cars, at one of about 40 locations scattered around the state.

And when they voted, they ranked each of the candidates, with ballot-counters now working through the process of eliminating also-rans and redistributing votes.

In a ranked election, voters list their choices in order of preference. If no candidate gets a majority of first-place votes, the person with the fewest is eliminated and those ballots are redistributed based on the voters second choice. This process repeats until a candidate gets a majority of the top votes.

However, the Virginia GOP has added a twist to the process by weighting each vote based on individual counties' past support for Republican candidates, meaning not all voters are equal.

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FairVote, one of the advocates for ranked-choice voting, is happy with the initial reports from Virginia.

"We're pleased with what we're seeing so far on just the RCV component of it," said the group's president, Rob Richie.

Now that all the votes have been cast, volunteers have begun the painstaking process of counting them all by hand. Because it's an instant runoff election, they will be going through ballots multiple times, meaning it will take days to complete the count. The counting is being broadcast via livestream.

David Levine of the Alliance for Securing Democracy laid out some of the issues facing the party's vote-counters.

Political observers in Virginia believe the party is hoping RCV will help a moderate win the gubernatorial nod. The Republicans have not won a statewide election since 2009 in Virginia, which has been moving from reliably red to regularly blue over the past 12 years.

State Sen. Amanda Chase, a loyal follower of former President Donald Trump, would likely have won a plurality in a standard election but might get sidelined when voters have the chance to rank multiple candidates.

But John March, a spokesman for the state party, noted that RCV simplifies a process used in the past.

"Traditional conventions always go multi round until someone gets to 50%," March wrote in an email. "Since COVID did not allow us to have a traditional convention, we resorted to using ranked choice so that we would not have to do an all day convention seven times just to get a nominee."

March also said it's too early to say whether any of these changes will be used again in the future.

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