Under California's Ranked-Choice Voting (RCV) System, Voters pick their Favorite Candidate in a given Race and then List other Candidates in Order of Preference. If No Candidate Wins a Majority, the Votes from the Candidate with the fewest First-Choice Votes are Redistributed to their Supporters’ Next Choice. The Process Repeats, Eliminating the Field of Candidates, one by one, until a Winner emerges.
Champions of RCV have been critical of the Three-Choice Limit that has been in place regardless of the Number of Candidates in a Race. That Limitation was purely a Technical one, said John Arntz, Director of San Francisco’s Elections Department, the Old Machines could contend with only Three Candidate Slots in RCV Contests.
The New Vote-Counting Machines look a lot like their black, boxy predecessors. But the Paper Ballots themselves will be Redesigned: In most cases, Voters will fill in Ovals, rather than complete Broken Lines, to Mark their selections. Sections of the Ballot for Ranked-Choice Contests will also look different, featuring a layout that Ranked-Choice Proponents say will help Eliminate Voter Confusion and Mismarked Ballots. And those extra Choices could intensify the long-running Debate over San Francisco’s use of RCV to Elect its Mayor, Supervisors. and other Local Officials.
“No more three columns, one for each ranking, repeating the candidate names three times, which is a confusing design,” said Steven Hill, an Author and Political Consultant who Drafted the Charter Amendments that Voters Passed to institute RCV in San Francisco and Oakland. Instead, Voters will see the Candidate Names only once, with the 10 Rankings Spread across the Page, “like an SAT bubble sheet,” Hill said. “This is going to give voters more choice, more options, so they don’t feel as constrained,” said Hill, a Longtime Supporter of RCV. “This is really going to be a very powerful, voter-centric change that’s going to free up voters to vote for the candidates they really like.”
Jason McDaniel, an Associate Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University, said more Choice would likely cut down on Ballot “exhaustion,” which occurs when a Voter’s Picks all get Eliminated in the Ranked-Choice Tabulation. “On balance, I think it’s probably a benefit, because it will lower the possibility that someone’s votes will be exhausted if they choose to use all 10 slots,” McDaniel said.
But, Political Consultant Jim Ross said, “Expecting the public to hold strong opinions on 10 candidates is asking a lot of voters. No one following 10 candidates are going to be making ballot choices based on policy positions, but on name and title.” Ross speculated that the expanded Ranked-Choice Ballot would have “a dramatic impact on races and how races are run in San Francisco,” particularly around how Candidates form Coalitions during Campaigns.
In last month’s Mayoral Election, former State Sen. Mark Leno and Supervisor Jane Kim teamed up in an effort to Unite Progressive Voters against the more Moderate London Breed. The Strategy nearly paid off: Leno picked up a deluge of Second-Place Votes from Kim Supporters, but still lost to Breed by just 1.1 percentage points.
Ross said he’d Expect to see that Strategy continue, but with greater Numbers of Candidates coalescing around an Issue in an attempt to boost their chances of Electing someone who shares their Views. “The campaigns will be less about creating political positions that are compelling to voters, or even creating contrast with other candidates in the race,” he said. “It’s all about generating name recognition. It changes the campaign you run.”
A frequent Claim among RCV Opponents is that the System tends to flatten out the Political Divisions that can create meaningful Distinctions between a Field of Candidates. Rather than take pains to Distinguish themselves from their Opponents on the Issues, critics say, Candidates work to establish a Broad Appeal in the hopes of becoming a Second or Third choice, if they can’t be Ranked First. That’s a big reason some would like to return to Runoff Elections, so Candidates are forced to show Voters why they’re Different from their Opponents.
It won’t be long before San Francisco sees how this all plays out. The City’s Contract with Dominion Voting Systems is expected to be Finalized by the end of the year, which means the First Election Voters could expect to use the New Ballots and Machines would be in November 2019.
NYC Wins When Everyone Can Vote! Michael H. Drucker