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.
California: San Francisco ranked choice voting repeal effort gets tricky with three alternatives | San Francisco Bay Guardian
The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on July 10 whether to place a controversial charter amendment on November’s ballot that would largely repeal San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, but the outcome of that effort has become murky with the introduction of two competing alternatives. The original charter amendment, sponsored by Sup. Mark Farrell, would eliminate RCV for all citywide elected officials, instead holding a primary in September and runoff in November. The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell to repeal RCV, but Farrell came back with a modified measure that was co-sponsored by Sup. Christina Olague, much to the dismay of her progressive supporters, particularly Steven Hill, the father of RCV in San Francisco. Hill said runoff elections in September, a month notorious for having low-voter turnout, will invariably favor the conservatives who always vote in high numbers. He said that RCV is a fairer representation of what voters want and a November election allows for more voters to be heard.
Steven Hill is not on San Francisco’s November ballot, but few actual candidates have been as influential, or controversial, in this year’s election. Mr. Hill, an author and public speaker, is considered the guru of ranked-choice voting, a system that creates an instant-runoff by having voters select their top three favorite candidates in order of preference. The system was adopted in San Francisco in 2004, but this election is the first time it will be employed in a competitive mayoral race in the city, since Gavin Newsom ran without serious opposition in 2007.
Mr. Hill, who travels the world promoting changes in electoral systems, said that ranked-choice voting improved turnout, saved money by avoiding expensive, and usually poorly attended, runoff elections and encouraged politicians to reach out to more-diverse constituencies. “You need both a strong core of support to avoid being eliminated in the first round, plus a broad base,” Mr. Hill said.
The system has made campaigning more complex. If no candidate gets a majority, the person at the bottom of the poll is dropped and the second and third choices of his supporters are added to the tallies of the remaining candidates. This continues until someone reaches 50 percent. In some cases, candidates who were not the first choice of a large majority of voters have been elected.