Coffey, Cunningham Win Democratic Primary For Arlington County Board

ARLINGTON, VA — Arlington County election officials on Saturday officially declared Maureen Coffey and Susan Cunningham winners of the Democratic Party primary for two open seats on the County Board.

Early Saturday afternoon, Arlington electoral officials examined 135 provisional ballots that remained to be processed. After tabulating the provisional ballots, Coffey and Cunningham remained the top two winners in the six-person race for the Democratic nomination for county board.

Coffey and Cunningham will face independent Audrey Clement and Republican Juan Carlos Fierro in November’s general election for county board.

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During the processing of the ranked choice votes on Friday, Coffey and Cunningham both crossed the 33.3-percent vote threshold needed to win in the election. The Democratic primary for Arlington County Board was Virginia’s first-ever publicly run ranked choice voting election.

After Tuesday’s primary election, Cunningham and Natalie Roy had received the most first choice votes, with Cunningham getting 25 percent, or 6,837 votes, and Roy receiving 24 percent, or 6,592. Coffey won 22 percent, or 6,158, of the first choice votes, followed by JD Spain with 20 percent, or 5,460 votes.

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Among the other candidates, Tony Weaver received 5 percent, or 1,408, of the first choice votes, while Jonathan Dromgoole received 4 percent, or 1,058.

During the ranked choice voting tabulation process on Friday, Dromgoole was eliminated in the first round, followed by Weaver in the second round.

When Spain was eliminated in round three, Coffey received enough votes to cross the 33.3-percent threshold and was declared a winner in round four. Roy was eliminated in round five, which gave Cunningham the votes needed to cross the 33.3-percent threshold and win the second nomination.

“I am so proud and excited. But there is still a lot of work to be done. This is just the primary. There is a general election,” Coffey told Patch after the unofficial results were revealed by election officials. “I have been all over this county, from Madison Manor to Green Valley to Dominion Hills to Rosslyn. Our strategy was to talk to everyone, engage with everyone.”

Coffey said this strategy of focusing on the entire county showed in the election results. “My votes came from everywhere,” she said.

In a statement on Friday, Cunningham said she is humbled by Arlington’s vote of confidence in her and is now ready to get to work on November’s general election.

“With all votes now tabulated in this first Virginia primary election using Ranked Choice Voting, I am thrilled to have earned the most first round votes and now the Democratic endorsement after all second and third votes have been considered,” Cunningham said.

“I am grateful to the other candidates for offering their ideas and service to our community, to our election officials for their hard work and integrity, to my campaign team for their tireless work and patience, and to all who made time to participate in our local democracy as volunteers and voters,” she said.

The six candidates ran to fill the seats currently held by Board Member Katie Cristol and Board Chairman Christian Dorsey, who each announced in 2022 that they would not run for re-election to a third term.

In early January, Coffey, a policy analyst at the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., and a former Virginia Young Democrats president, announced she would be seeking the Democratic nomination in the primary for county board.

Cunningham, who previously ran as an independent to fill the county board seat of the late Erik Gutshall in 2020, announced on March 1 that she would be seeking the Democratic nomination in this year’s race for the two seats.

On the campaign trail, the county board’s approval of the Missing Middle Housing plan was one of the primary topics of discussion. Cunningham and Roy opposed Missing Middle, while Coffey, Spain, Weaver and Dromgoole supported the current board’s approval of the major zoning change.

READ ALSO: Arlington Board Primary ‘Cliffhanger’ Awaits Ranked Choice Tabulations

At candidate forums, Coffey said she will be interested in seeing how the Missing Middle Housing plan plays out. She also emphasized that there is no going back from the elimination of single-family housing in Arlington.

“We don’t get a do-over,” she said at an Arlington County Democratic Committee candidates forum in May. “There’s only a do-next.”

In March, the county board approved by-right construction of townhouses, duplexes and 4-6 unit buildings on lots previously zoned for single-family homes. For the first five years of the plan, an annual cap of 58 permits for Missing Middle housing units will be in place.

During the campaign, Cunningham said Arlington County, in the first few years of the Missing Middle Housing plan, should closely monitor the implementation of it to ensure the 58 annual permits are getting distributed fairly and that a diversity of housing types and more affordable housing are getting built.

Election officials in Arlington said they thought the county’s use of ranked choice voting for the first time went smoothly.

Tania Griffin, communications and outreach coordinator for Arlington’s Office of Voter Registration & Elections, said the use of ranked choice voting was a learning experience for both her office and the Arlington community as a whole.

“I’m really proud of our office. We did a lot of outreach events. We worked really hard to make sure we did it right,” Griffin told Patch. “We’re excited that the community was excited about it.”

Liz White, executive director of UpVote Virginia, a nonpartisan group that focuses on election issues such as ranked choice voting and campaign finance reform, said on a conference call Wednesday that election officials in other jurisdictions in Virginia will be watching Arlington’s use of ranked choice voting to see how it goes.

Based on her office’s experience and months of preparation for the primary election, Griffin’s advice for other jurisdictions considering using the new voting method is simply to follow the state election code on ranked choice voting.

If they follow the law, “they’ll be fine,” she said.

Scott McGeary, secretary of the Arlington Electoral Board, told Patch that in terms of the mechanics of conducting ranked choice voting at the polls on Tuesday, “everything worked as we had hoped and expected it would.”

McGeary and the other two members of the Arlington Electoral Board — Chair Kimberly Phillip and Vice Chair Richard Samp — visited polling stations on Tuesday.

Phillip said election workers told her that they received some questions from voters about ranked choice voting, but not a huge number. And in most cases, they were able to answer voters’ questions about ranked choice voting before handing them their ballots to fill out.

Samp was also impressed by the machines used to scan the ballots. “Our voting machines were programmed so that if somebody voted incorrectly — may have voted twice for a first place — the machine spit it out so that the voter then had a chance to correct their ballot and only vote for one in first place,” he said.

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