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22-Oct-2004 - Bush OKs New Corporate Tax Cut

22-Oct-2004 - Beware Fox News and MSNBC

21-Oct-2004 - Gymnast Paul Hamm Gets to Keep Gold

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19-Oct-2004 - Movies Released in 2004

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18-Oct-2004 - The Crystal Prison

17-Oct-2004 - What If There's a Tie?

16-Oct-2004 - Notable Quotes, Volume 3

15-Oct-2004 - Endorsements for John Kerry

13-Oct-2004 - Notable Quotes, Volume 2

13-Oct-2004 - Bits and Pieces, Volume 1

12-Oct-2004 - Ranked Choice Voting Hits San Francisco

7-Oct-2004 - Notable Quotes, Volume 1

7-Oct-2004 - Prince Adares Shows Signs of Royal Affinity

7-Oct-2004 - Controlling the U.S. Senate

7-Oct-2004 - Key Battleground States

6-Oct-2004 - Democratic Hopes for the 2004 Elections

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October 12, 2004

Ranked Choice Voting Hits San Francisco

A few years ago, voters in San Francisco approved a ballot measure to adopt a new form of electing candidates in which voters rank their favorite candidates rather than selecting just one. The process wasn't in place in time for last year's mayoral election, so the election on November 2 will be the first time that voters here will have a chance to try it. Surprisingly, most voters still don't know what it is or how it works, and that could result in serious voting delays come election day.

At the time, it was called Instant Run-Off Voting (IRV) because the system avoids the necessity of holding a run-off in December if no candidate receives over 50 percent of the vote. Election officials are now shying away from that term, fearing that it gives a false sense of immediacy (as it will actually take several days for the ranking calculations to be completed if no one wins in the first round). They have now adopted the term Ranked Choice Voting, or RCV.

How It Works

Under the old system, if no candidate for a single-person office received a majority of the vote, the top two vote-getters would face each other in a run-off election in December. Critics argued that the run-off process was expensive and unnecessary.

Under the RCV system, voters will be permitted to select their top three candidates for the office rather than just one candidate. The voter ranks those three in order of their most favorite to their least favorite of their top three. In San Francisco, the election ballot will list all of the candidates for that office in three columns. In the first column, the voter will vote for their first choice candidate. In the second column, the voter may choose a second favorite, and their third favorite in the third column.

During the first round of balloting, their vote will go to their favorite candidate. If none of the candidates receives a majority, the candidate who received the fewest votes will be off the ballot. Each of the ballots that ranked him or her first will be sent through the machine a second time, with votes transferring to the to the second choice candidate on that ballot. Lower candidates will continue to be dropped and ballots resubmitted through the machine to roll the vote over to the second and third choice until one candidate receives over 50% of the cast votes.

In San Francisco, RCV will only be used for seats in which a single candidate is elected, such as for mayor and for the individual Board of Supervisor districts. Offices in which multiple candidates are elected at large, such as the Board of Education and the Community College Board, will continue to use their old process.

For more specific information about San Francisco's process, including a Flash demo of the ballot, please see the Department of Elections' RCV page.

Arguments About of RCV

Supporters of RCV argue that the new system is less expensive. Rather than managing the expense of creating new ballots and staffing polling places for a December run-off, election officials will only have the proportionally minor expenses of staffing vote-counting for a few extra days. Supporters also argue that the process is more enfranchising - too often, voters miss the run-off because the election is a lower profile and they may forget or have an unexpected conflict. RCV can also have the effect of softening political rhetoric: if a candidate knows that they're speaking to a crowd that favors an opponent, they still may be hoping to be the crowd's second favorite, and they won't get that if they diss the favorite. And as a result, candidates can join forces in a coalition - for example, progressive candidates can work together to help ensure that one of them might be elected rather than a more conservative candidate.

Opponents argue that the run-off allows candidates to re-position themselves for the votes. A voter may have tuned out the other candidates since they already had a favorite; if their favorite didn't make the run-off, they still have a chance to take a second look at the two who did.

Some of our readers will recall that your author, the Royal Scribe, ran under an RCV system for student senate at UC Berkeley back in 1988. At UCB, half of the seats for the 30-member senate were elected each semester to serve full-year terms. Candidates ran at large, and the top 15 vote-getters were elected. Voters could rank their top 15 choices. The lowest candidate would be dropped and votes would continue to roll over until only 15 candidates remained. I ran with the most left-wing political party. Although I was not elected, the vast majority of my votes rolled over to another openly-gay candidate, allowing him to win.

The Impact in District 5

No district will feel the impact of RCV more than District 5, our own district. The incumbent, Matt Gonzalez, decided not to run for re-election. An open seat is almost always easier to win, and as a result, 22 candidates are now fighting it out to be elected to that seat.

But it has been a most congenial election so far. Some candidates have been holding joint open-house forums to meet voters. And reportedly several of the candidates traveled together to Burning Man to vacation together.

Two of the top candidates, according to polls, are Robert Haaland, who could be the first transgendered person elected to the Board of Supervisors, and Bill Barnes, who could be the first gay African American man elected to the Board. They were both my early choices and appear to have emerged as the frontrunners. Although I've vacillated over who is my first choice, Haaland is now emerging as the consensus candidate (endorsed as first choice by both the Harvey Milk and Alice B. Toklas Democratic Clubs, who rarely endorse the same candidate, and also endorsed by both Mark Leno and Harry Britt, who ran against each other in a bitter primary battle for State Assembly). So now I'm just pondering my third choice, even though I'll be shocked if Robert Haaland doesn't finish in the top two (which would mean my ballot would never roll down to my third choice).

 

2004. All original articles and commentaries published on this site remain the copyright of Kevin C. Goebel except where otherwise attributed. You may use excerpts with an attributed to The Imperial Gazette and a link to either www.cosmomovieawards.com/ig or directly to the excerpted article. For additional information, or to be alerted for new articles and updates, please email the Royal Scribe.