Republicans in the tiny Virgin Islands, a territory with only nine delegates to the Republican National Convention that is perhaps better known for Jeffrey Epstein’s bribing of the Democrats who run the islands, have decided to flex their muscles in a major way when it comes to their role in selecting the eventual GOP presidential nominee.
According to an official announcement by the territory’s GOP, they will move their caucus date up to February 8, 2024. That makes the Virgin Islands the third US state or territory — after Iowa and New Hampshire — to hold a vote for president and select their delegates to the nominating convention.
This is noteworthy because, in an effort to ensure their delegates go to Donald Trump, the Nevada Republican Party recently voted to replace their state-run February 6 primary with a party-run caucus on February 8. But because of time zones, the Virgin Islands results will likely be in long before Nevada decides who their winner is.
As I said, there’s a degree of flexing involved in such a move.
In a statement to Newsmax, Republican Party in the Virgin Islands Executive Director Dennis Lennox expressed his desire that the territory “play when it counts and be relevant to the nominating process.” He went on to call the seeming deference of other state parties to the four early states in lieu of their own self-interests “mind-boggling.”
And it’s true.
If you’re a Republican caucus-goer in Iowa, your vote matters significantly more in the process than, say, mine does in Tennessee. The candidate who wins Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, or South Carolina will greatly benefit from a winning narrative that will shape all the later races.
There’s a reason Ron DeSantis, for example, has chosen to put all his apples in Iowa by canvassing every county as if he’s running for governor. Win there, and Trump’s aura of invincibility is broken.
So if you aren’t going to agree to have all the races at the same time, the least your state party leaders can do is try to move things up.
But the Virgin Islands isn’t stopping there. They also plan to employ an intriguing system called ranked-choice voting (RCV), in which, instead of only selecting their primary choice, voters rank their preferences from first to last on the ballot. If a candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, they win. If not, there are several rounds of tabulations in which, for each round, the candidate earning the fewest first-place votes is eliminated, and the second-choice of those candidates’ voters is added to the next tally. Tabulations continue until one candidate earns a majority of voter support and is declared the winner. This changes the election from a situation in which someone wins with a mere plurality (that is to say, under 50 percent) to the winning candidate having majority support.
This is where things get really interesting because polarizing candidates — like, as a totally random example, Donald Trump — tend to be most peoples’ first or last choice. No voter in the country would choose Chris Christie first and Trump second, for example. So, even in a crowded race, you are able to get down to the nitty-gritty of the overall voters’ preferences.
And in a race as crowded as this one — even bottom-dwelling candidates like Doug Burgum, Chris Christie, and especially Asa Hutchinson simply refuse to exit the race even though they know full well their continued presence only helps Trump — a system that allows for getting to the nitty gritty before it’s too late would seem to be of utmost importance.
Here are a few huge benefits to ranked-choice voting as outlined in this post-debate piece by FairVote Action:
Candidates wouldn’t be pressured to drop out of the race to prevent vote-splitting — months before a single vote has been cast.
A candidate could win with a majority of the party behind them — even with over a dozen candidates in the race.
Voters who cast early ballots for candidates who then drop out wouldn’t see their votes go to waste.
Voters could vote honestly, not strategically. No more worrying about whether to vote for their favorite candidate or a candidate they think can win.
The list is compelling and hard to argue against, especially if deciding the actual will of the overall citizenry is the goal.
And it’s not like it’s never been done.
Many people forget or aren’t even aware that RCV was the voting system used when Republicans selected their nominee for Virginia governor in 2021. In a field of six, Glenn Youngkin emerged as a consensus candidate over “Trump in heels” Amanda Chase, who could never have won the state’s general election against Democrat Terry McAuliffe.
Obviously, RCV won’t be adopted nationwide anytime soon, much less this cycle. (To be clear, there are legitimate differences between ranked-choice in primaries or caucuses versus general elections.) Still, how things would play out if more state parties used RCV is an interesting thought experiment.
A WPA Intelligence and FairVote Action poll conducted in August after the first GOP debate revealed some fascinating data.
While Trump still maintains a solid lead, it took nine rounds of eliminations before the former president reached over 50 percent support. Further, Trump only led 56 percent to 44 percent over DeSantis in round 11 when the race was narrowed down to two candidates.
In an increasingly polarized political world, finding a consensus candidate who can earn majority support in a general election is critical for Republicans to have any shot at victory. Ranked-choice voting could be a way to find this candidate in a fair, transparent way that everyone understands and can get behind.
The Virgin Islands is leading the way by showing the effectiveness of what could be one of the most important election reforms in history. It will be fun to watch how things play out.