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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