In the past 10 years, four California cities have embraced ranked-choice voting, the system of computerized runoff elections that boosters say streamlines and reforms local politics. Almost as soon as the new systems were in place, critics began trying to roll ranked-choice voting back. Opponents are ready to go back at it this week. Tomorrow officials in San Francisco are scheduled to consider measures that would modify the new high-tech voting system. The Oakland City Council was asked to consider a measure tomorrow that would have abolished rank-choice voting entirely in that city. But Mayor Jean Quan blocked it from coming before the council, said Terry Reilly, a former San Jose election official and a ranked-choice voting opponent. In a ranked-choice election, voters get three weighted choices for each office on the ballot. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the first-choice votes, a computerized “instant runoff” is held to select the winner.
Proponents, led by San Francisco political writer Steven Hill, argue that the system increases voter turnout, stanches the flow of special interest money into politics and encourages high-minded, positive campaigns. But critics, say it confuses – and thus disenfranchises – many voters, especially members of racial minorities. Whatever happens this week, opponents said they intend to keep hammering away until ranked-choice voting is replaced with the system that has been in place for decades in most cities – conventional runoff elections held weeks or months after the initial vote.