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Ranked-choice voting — an electoral reform passed by San Francisco voters in 2002 — aims to encourage more diverse participation by allowing voters to pick more than one candidate for a contested seat. But the jury is still out on its impact, and some data suggest it may actually deter people of color and immigrants from voting, according to a panel of experts and advocates.

San Francisco is one of 13 U.S. cities to use ranked-choice voting, along with the East Bay cities of Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, as well as the state of Maine. Many countries around the world — including Scotland, Northern Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand — also use ranked-choice voting, an alternative to the more traditional system of plurality voting, in which a winner takes all.

Jason McDaniel, Associate Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University, used the example of the hotly contested 2018 San Francisco special election mayoral race to illustrate how the system works. In that race, eight candidates vied for the seat left vacant after the unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee.

Voters in the election were allowed to choose up to eight candidates in their order of preference. Some chose just one, while others ranked all eight, explained McDaniel.  READ MORE

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  1. Thanks for this article.
    I thought ranked-choice voting was a permanent enshrinement never to be questioned as it has unequivocal support of the ruling clique.
    Sure – there is an arguable logic to it.
    But as the accompanying article points out – things start getting scatter brained in relationship to the number of candidates on the ballot.

    The main point though: “complexity is a barrier”.

    Erecting complexity barriers against the exercise of democracy and voting is the province of those other evil guys.
    And yet here we are because a straight up yes/no on two competing points of view is “too costly” among other more minor arguments.

  2. Ranked choice voting saves money/time but doesn’t deliver the best scenarios. Boudin is the most current example of that.

  3. Ranked choice voting is not perfect – no system is. However, it avoids expensive, low-turnout run-off elections. It also gives voters the opportunity to select their first choice (vote with your heart), and then rank in other second and third choices. RCV is not strongly supported by the main two political parties, because it DOES give voters more choice. The big power parties would rather limit people’s choices.

    RCV and National Popular Vote can go a long way to assuring that people’s votes count. It’s a lot better to get-out-the-vote, if your vote really matters. FairVote is the national organization that has lots of good information on RCV — I encourage people to learn more.

    Re confusion: As a poll worker for the past 20 years in San Francisco, I can assure you that voters are confused by many things. Some of them also don’t take the time and effort to learn about issues, or how to mark their ballots. If we want our democracy to work, we do have to put in some effort. And not forget the corrupting influence of money in politics. RCV is a step. Let’s keep working to make our democracy better.

  4. Whatever “complexity” comes with ranked choice voting is far outweighed by the ability to vote in order of your personal preference, instead of having to try and guess who other people are going to vote for as well. RCV means you’re more likely to get a candidate that groups can compromise on together, instead of a polarizing candidate that leaves 49% of people feeling unrepresented.

    And it really isn’t complex, it’s just new. “Rank candidates in the order you like them. You don’t need to rank everyone.” There, done.

    I am tremendously proud to live in a city that adopted RCV, and I hope Gov Newsom comes around to implementing it statewide.

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