Ranked-choice voting was the cure for what ails American politics, boosters said. Now in use in four California cities, this new voting system was supposed to increase voter turnout, stanch the flow of special interest money and encourage high-minded, positive campaigns.
But it didn’t play out that way in the biggest ranked-choice election yet – the 2011 San Francisco mayoral race. Turnout was down, the worst in a competitive race in about 35 years, as the San Francisco Chronicle noted.
Independent soft money committees, financed by big corporations and labor unions, spent heavily, ducking the city’s tough donation limits. And in the campaign itself, challengers pounded away at acting Mayor Ed Lee. They accused him of promoting voter fraud in Chinatown, lying when he promised not to run and serving as a stooge for former Mayor Willie Brown.
Lee denied wrongdoing and got elected anyway. Now critics are zeroing in on the ranked-choice system, hoping to repeal it before another city election rolls around. The proposal is being fronted by city Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell, who calls the system a “failed experiment.” They hope to put the issue to voters next year.