Frequently Asked Questions about the Arlington Democrats 2020 School Board Caucus
Frequently Asked Questions
A. Questions About Voting
- Question: Can I request a ballot if I'm registered to vote in Arlington but living outside of the County?
Answer: Yes. You first need to request a ballot using the address on your voter registration and then email or call us to identify your preferred alternative mailing address. Once we verify the address where you are registered to vote, we will send your ballot to your preferred alternative address.
- Question: Can I request multiple ballots for the same household?
Answer: No, each individual must fill out their own form.
- Question: Do I need to be a Democrat to request a ballot?
Answer: Yes. Like other private organizations that issue candidate endorsements (including labor unions, newspapers, non-profit civic groups, and political action organizations), the endorsement process is limited to our organization’s members, which consist of Democrats who are registered to vote in Arlington.
- Question: If there are multiple voters in the same house, do we send back ballots individually or in the same envelope?
Answer: We recommend one ballot per envelope, especially if the return envelope provided by Arlington Democrats is used (which includes postage that may not be adequate for envelopes with multiple ballots).
- Question: How will I know if my ballot request form has been processed and accepted?
Answer: If you have questions about the status of your ballot request, you may contact SBCaucus@arlingtondemocrats.org or call 703-528-8588 ext. 4.
- Question: Can I vote online?
Answer: No. While the request process is available online (as well as in hardcopy), the voting process is by mail. We will be sending you a ballot in the mail with a stamped, addressed return envelope.
- Question: What if a voter doesn’t have access to a computer or internet -- can she still vote?
Answer: Yes. Voters without computers or internet connections may request their ballots using a hardcopy of the ballot request form (a PDF of which is available on our website). Arlington Democrats will deliver a hardcopy of the ballot request form (and an envelope) at the request of any Arlington voter, who may call us at 703-528-8588 ext. 4. Each of the five candidate campaigns also can provide copies of the ballot request form to voters. After submitting a hardcopy ballot request form, each registered Arlington voter will receive a hardcopy ballot and a stamped, addressed return envelope.
- Question: Why is there a pledge on the ballot request form?
Answer: Like other private organizations that issue candidate endorsements (including labor unions, newspapers, non-profit civic groups, and political action organizations), the endorsement process is limited to our organization’s members, which consist of Democrats who are registered to vote in Arlington. The pledge helps to ensure that only individuals who self-identify as Democrats request ballots.
Question: How do I return my ballot?
Answer: After you request your ballot you will receive it in the mail along with a stamped envelope. We recommend that you use the stamped envelope to return your individual ballot. If you end up losing that envelope you can still submit it by sending it to the appropriate PO box address (PO Box 40010, Arlington, VA 22204).
For ballots submitted prior to May 23, 2020, voters should place their ballot in any USPS mail dropbox (e.g., blue mailboxes on street corners) for delivery by a postal worker to the Arlington Democrats’ dedicated PO Box for the School Board Caucus.
For ballots submitted on or after May 23, 2020, to ensure on-time delivery by the close of the School Board Caucus, voters have the option to hand-carry their ballots to the South Glebe Post Office for delivery by a postal worker to the Arlington Democrats’ dedicated PO Box for the School Board Caucus. More information about this option is available in this guidance document.
B. Questions About Endorsement Process
- Question: Did Arlington Democrats follow the rules when transforming the endorsement caucus from vote-in-person to vote-by-mail?
Answer: Yes. As in past years, the Arlington Democrats 2020 School Board Caucus Rules included a provision permitting changes to the endorsement process in cases of emergency (e.g., acts of God). The Virginia Governor’s order prohibiting large in-person gatherings on the planned dates of in-person caucus voting created such an emergency, justifying invocation of the emergency provision. This provision required Arlington Democrats to consult with all of the candidates seeking the endorsement about proposed changes, which was done over the course of multiple weeks by email and teleconference. No candidates voiced objections to the proposed changes. Although not required by the emergency provision, Arlington Democrats also provided an overview of the proposed changes at a virtual meeting of the Arlington Democrats Steering Committee, which consists of more than 100 elected and appointed leaders of our organization. Feedback from that meeting, as well as feedback from the candidates, helped to inform the changes to the endorsement process which were announced on April 7.
- Question: Does it make sense to hold a vote-by-mail endorsement caucus during an epidemic?
Answer: Yes. Voting by mail is a proven effective method for voting, and at least five U.S. states have adopted this method as the exclusive means of voting in state-run elections. From a public health perspective, this voting method also is the safest, which is why the Centers for Disease Control actively encourages use of this voting method. Attacks on vote-by-mail by President Trump are baseless, and these attacks raise serious concerns about the potential actions of the Trump Administration with respect to the November general election if the epidemic persists into the Fall. In this environment, Arlington Democrats is proud to demonstrate the effectiveness of a vote-by-mail process, lending needed support to our democratic institutions currently under attack by the Trump Administration. Further, by persevering with the School Board Caucus in a manner that respects public health guidelines, Arlington Democrats joins with many other organizations and individuals in demonstrating the resilience of the vibrant Arlington community in the face of current challenges. Arlington must overcome these challenges, and Arlington Democrats is committed to doing our part to keep our community moving forward during these difficult times.
- Question: What’s the rationale for a political party to hold a caucus for the School Board?
Answer: Many private organizations -- including labor unions, newspapers, non-profit civic groups, political action organizations, and political parties -- regularly endorse candidates in races for a variety of elected positions. Like the other private organizations that issue candidate endorsements, Arlington Democrats believes that its endorsement is one of many valuable data points for voters. The endorsement signals that a candidate's positions are consistent with those of the Democratic Party, which may be helpful information for voters unfamiliar with a potentially wide field of candidates. Other organizations, such as education associations, may be equally capable of providing helpful insights to voters, but the Arlington Democrats is the only organization consistently at the polls in Arlington on Election Day every year. Arlington Democrats sincerely believe that there is value in this constancy: we are the only reliable ally for like-minded voters who feel that they need additional information about the candidates on their ballots on Election Day. In addition, the Arlington Democrats endorsement likely also encourages more community members to become candidates. Running for office can be daunting and expensive; candidates who earn the Arlington Democrats' endorsement benefit from significant grassroots organizing support that they likely would not have been able to generate on their own during the general election. For these reasons and more, Arlington Democrats has been issuing endorsements in School Board races since 1999.
- Question: Why isn't there a regular primary this year?
Answer: In Virginia, it is not legally possible to designate a partisan candidate for a school board race using a government-run primary. Because a primary is not available under Virginia law, Arlington Democrats use a Party-run caucus process to identify Democratic endorsees in Arlington School Board races.
Please note that a regular primary is being held this year in Arlington for the Democratic nomination in the County Board race. Arlington Democrats encourage voting absentee-by-mail in this primary. To request your ballot in the primary, please see this Virginia Department of Elections webpage.
- Question: Will Arlington Democrats mail ballot request forms or ballots to every voter in Arlington?
Answer: No. To the extent possible, Arlington Democrats has modeled its vote-by-mail process after the absentee-by-mail voting procedure used for state-run elections in Virginia. In those elections, state law currently does not require our government to mail ballot request forms or ballots to the entire population of Arlington. It would be both cost-prohibitive and logistically infeasible for a significantly smaller, private organization like the Arlington Democrats to undertake an effort which our own government has not attempted.
- Question: Will Arlington Democrats translate the ballot request forms and ballots into every language spoken in Arlington?
Answer: No. To the extent possible, Arlington Democrats has modeled its vote-by-mail process after the absentee-by-mail voting procedure used for state-run elections in Virginia. In those elections, state law currently does not require our government to translate ballot request forms and ballots into all languages. State law does require translation into languages spoken by large populations within a jurisdiction. No population in Arlington currently meets the threshold that triggers this translation requirement under state law. It would be both cost-prohibitive and logistically infeasible for a significantly smaller, private organization like the Arlington Democrats to undertake a comprehensive translation effort which our own government has not attempted.
Nonetheless, Arlington Democrats is exploring translation options for the School Board Caucus. As a first step, Arlington Democrats has translated into Spanish the ballot request form. We encourage individuals with translation skills to contact us at email@example.com if you are able to assist with this effort, which also will be very helpful for our broader campaign efforts this November.
- Question: Are you concerned that the new vote-by-mail procedure will depress participation?
Answer: No. Based on the volume of ballot requests received in the first three days of the request period, Arlington Democrats is confident that participation in this year’s School Board Caucus will be at least as strong as our recent endorsement caucuses.
- Question: What steps is Arlington Democrats taking to publicize the School Board Caucus?
Answer: Arlington Democrats is taking multiple steps to publicize the School Board Caucus. We are heavily leveraging our existing digital communications channels, which are among the most robust of any Democratic organization in Virginia. We also are working to activate our county-wide, boots-on-the-ground network of more than 200 Precinct Captains and Building Ambassadors (not to mention our hundreds of awesome volunteers!) to share information by email, phone, flyers and word-of-mouth with their neighbors. We also plan to conduct outreach by text message.
In addition, we have issued a press release about the endorsement caucus to approximately 40 news organizations, including several Spanish language publications. We also have directly shared this press release with more than 70 organizations within the Arlington community, including the Civic Federation, civic associations, County Council of PTAs, and multiple progressive grassroots organizations. We also have shared information about the School Board Caucus within Facebook groups focused on Arlington and Northern Virginia and will continue to do so. We further intend to purchase paid advertisements, such as boosted Facebook posts.
Arlington Democrats will continue to look for ways to spread the word to ensure that the Arlington Democrats School Board Caucus remains the single most robust endorsement process conducted by any organization in Arlington. We also appreciate efforts by individual community members to further this outreach -- don’t sit on the sidelines, help to spread the word!
- Question: Did the Arlington Democrats exclude any interested candidates from its endorsement process?
Answer: No. Five candidates submitted filings to participate in the endorsement caucus, and Arlington Democrats accepted all five filings. An additional candidate initially expressed interest in the caucus, but ultimately did not submit a filing to participate.
C. Questions About Counting & Caucus Results
- Question: What is Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)?
Answer: Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is a voting system used around the world to ensure that the winners represent a majority of those voting -- rather than representing a small percentage of voters, which often happens in traditional voting when there is a large number of candidates. Under the IRV method, voters rank the candidates in numerical order from 1 to 5 on their ballots. A voter’s first choice candidate is ranked “1”, a voter’s second choice candidate is ranked "2" and so on. Ranking additional candidates strengthens the ultimate impact of each individual vote. A ballot stays with the voter’s first choice candidate until that candidate is eliminated from the count. At that point, the ballot continues to be counted -- i.e., it is counted toward the voter’s second choice candidate and so on.
Under the IRV method, if one candidate receives more than 50% of the 1st choice votes, that candidate will receive the first Arlington Dems endorsement. If not, the candidate with the fewest number of 1st choice votes will be eliminated and each of his/her ballots will be redistributed to the candidate listed as the 2nd choice on that ballot. The ballots will be counted again, and the process will continue until one candidate receives more than 50% of the ballots. That candidate then will receive the first Arlington Democrats endorsement. Once the first endorsee is identified, each of his/her ballots will be redistributed to the candidate listed as the 2nd choice on that ballot. The ballots will be counted again, and the process will continue until one candidate receives more than 50% of the ballots. That candidate then will receive the second Arlington Dems endorsement.
- Question: How can I learn about the caucus results?
Answer: Arlington Democrats expect to be able to announce the results of the caucus by June 9. We will announce the results in a press release that we will post to our website, share with local and regional news organizations, and distribute via email and the Arlington Democrats social media channels.