The Ranked-Choice Voting Debate

UPDATE NOV 16 From the Chronicle: Ranked-choice voting sets stage for new tactics

UPDATE NOV 12 FairVote, ranked-choice-voting proponents, has issued a statement rebutting Don Perata's criticism of ranked-choice-voting in his concession speech Thursday.

UPDATE NOV 11 3:30 p.m. Joe Eskenazi of The Snitch writes that "Don Perata Deserved to Lose," focusing on the erstwhile Oakland mayoral candidate's lack of a ranked-choice voting strategy.

His statement today that he'd have won easily in a conventional election was telling. Sure he would have. And if my mother had wheels, she'd be a bicycle.

Quite simply, you don't sign up to play football and show up with a strategy befitting rugby. And you don't get into an RCV election without an RCV strategy. Quan and others knew the benefit of picking up second and third votes. Perata didn't try or didn't care...

While the manner in which ranked-choice voting is tabulated is difficult to comprehend, the mindset of a voter is not: Vote for your favorite, second-favorite, and third-favorite. Simple.

RCV is not the cure for all of the political system's shortcomings. But it's hardly antidemocratic. Quite simply, there is no ideal situation to decide who should win a situation like the District 10 field, in which more than 20 candidates split some 17,000 votes. How is it less democratic for RCV to divvy up second- and third-place votes than to pick the top two vote-getters -- each of whom amassed barely over 1,000 votes and outpolled other candidates by 100 or so tallies -- and then run them against each other? How is it acceptably democratic for Tony Kelly to make a runoff with 1,200 votes, but undemocratic for Malia Cohen to beat him out with 3,700 RCV-adjusted votes? Read the full post.

UPDATE NOV 11: A column by the Chronicle's C.W. Nevius Thursday is called "Ranked choice a rank choice for elections," and asks the question: "What is wrong with a two-candidate runoff?"


UPDATE Nov 10: The Oakland blog scores an interview with Dave Macdonald, Alameda County Registrar and the most sought-after vote-counter since Katherine Harris (no other connection or similarities implied.)

Yesterday we had a little back and forth here over whether the delay in releasing the final vote count in the Oakland mayoral election was due to ranked-choice voting. Here's what Macdonald says in the above interview:

"We're still processing ballots. It is a close contest. We’ve had more ballots to process in this election than any other election in our history, and the reason is of course because with ranked-choice voting, every vote in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro got 3 ballot cards, and so it’s triple the amount of paper we have to handle.”

Macdonald did say later that even if ranked-choice voting weren't in play, this election is particularly crowded and would have necessitated two ballot cards.

UPDATE Nov 9 2:37 p.m. From the East Bay Express:

  • Perata May Have Blown It On Ranked Choice Voting

    ...Perata’s strategy, which essentially was to show disdain for the new voting system, may have backfired. By telling voters to just pick him, he may have alienated supporters of Kaplan and Joe Tuman, who is currently in fourth place. He also sent an unspoken message that if he was not a voter’s first choice, then they should just leave him off their ballots.

    It was a head-scratching maneuver, considering that none of the pre-election polls showed Perata receiving a majority of first-place votes. That meant he knew he had to get lots of second- and third-place votes to win. Yet he didn’t go after them. And it may cost him dearly. Perata has received 34% of the first-place votes, compared to Quan’s 25%, but she trounces him on second and third-place votes, propelling her over the 50% mark, according to the most recent results.

UPDATE 1:05 p.m. Here's an interview KQED's Cy Musiker conducted Monday with's Steven Hill, the architect of Oakland's ranked-choice voting system.

UPDATE 12:47 p.m. San Francisco Chronicle columnist Chip Johnson seems to have some big reservations about what's happening in Oakland's ranked-choice mayoral vote.

When the final votes are tallied, Oakland residents may wind up with the mayoral candidate who received less first-place votes than her closest rival, but tallied more second-place votes than anyone has seen before, to become the city's next mayor.

The transfer of votes in such bulk is unprecedented in the history of ranked-choice voting in the nation, political experts said. No one saw this coming...

While the system worked well for the underdog candidates in the Oakland mayor's race, the results do not represent the first choice of most Oakland residents by a fairly wide margin...

And if there is anything an aspiring Oakland politician can take away from the city's first ranked-choice voting experience, it's this: In an election where second- and third-place count, you are far, far better off being the least-hated candidate than the most popular.

And Oakland residents may get to find out if a mayor-elect who won the job on the strength of second-place votes has the mandate needed to carry out the city's No. 1 job. Read the full column here.

UPDATE 12:07 p.m. Alameda Registrar spokesman Guy Ashley said he didn't think the delay of the results in Oakland was due to ranked-choice voting, but because of the closeness of the race and the fact that reps from the campaigns are looking over the backs of the people scrutinizing the provisional ballots.

On the other hand, isn't the election only close because of ranked-choice voting? If it had been a regular election, wouldn't Perata have won outright because he received more first-place votes?

This doesn't speak to the overall benefit of ranked-choice voting as a system. If you like the concept, you're probably willing to sacrifice a week or so in receiving final results.

Wikipedia points to arguments for and against instant-runoff (aka ranked-choice) voting.

10:07 a.m. We received this email from Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, an electoral reform organization that supports ranked-choice, or instant run-off, voting, and whose Senior Analyst, Steven Hill, is the architect of Oakland's ranked-choice voting system. Mr. Richie took issue with my attributing the delays in reporting the final election results in the Oakland mayoral and San Francisco supervisor races to ranked-choice voting.

The delay in finalizing results is not due to ranked choice voting. It is due to the fact that Oakland, San Francisco and other communities had to open up absentee and provisional ballots and count them -- a process that takes time no matter what system is being used. That's why Ron Dellums' election in June 2006 wasn't assured into well into the second week after the elections.

Note that Dave Macdonald and Jon Arntz can push the button and update the RCV tallies anytime they want to -- that's easy. The hard part for them right now is counting ballots, and that would affect any close election.

The Oakland Tribune reported this today in a story about the Oakland mayoral race:

...However, for the (ranked-choice) system to work, all votes must be verified before the process can begin -- thus necessitating the current delay in knowing the winner of a race.

So perhaps there's some confusion here. Well, not perhaps. We have a call out to Dave Mcdonald, the Alameda Registrar, now.

For what it's worth, outside of any delays that may or may not be occurring due to its implementation, I like the concept of ranked-choice voting, as it seems to me to eliminate the classic voting dilemma that attained its Nader uh I mean nadir in the presidential election of 2000. You know -- you're a die-hard liberal and you want to vote for Ralph, except you know there's not a snowball's chance in Florida of him winning. But you go ahead and vote for him anyway, then spend the next four years being vilified by your George W. Bush-hating friends for personally causing the Iraq war. If you could have ranked-choice that vote, you could have specified: 1) Nader 2) Gore 3) Your Uncle Ernie, and your Nader vote would have eventually accrued to Gore.

The same goes for votes on the right side of the political spectrum. You may want to vote for a Tea Party favorite that has no chance of winning because she, uh, oh I don't know, once said she dabbled in witchcraft. If you know that vote would eventually kick in for the more mainstream candidate, you could do so without fear of contributing to the victory of a Democrat.

Not bad, in my book...

Here's a video from Alameda County explaining ranked-choice voting.


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