Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ranked Choice Voting is pseudo-democracy

Photo by Luke Thomas

George Wooding, a contributor to the Westside Observer, provides a good account of how Ranked Choice Voting works. It's a flawed, undemocratic system, which, as he points out, encourages lemming-like political behavior among candidates. (Wooding's piece was published in the newsletter of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods):

Under the run-off system, politicians were rewarded for taking unique stands and developing innovative solutions to problems. Politicians tried to develop unique voting blocks of support to win elections. With no clear front-runner and a crowded field of candidates, the RCV system rewards chameleons and sheep.  

In a system that encourages competition for second and third choice votes, candidates have an incentive to take non-controversial positions on the issues so as not to antagonize followers of the other candidates. That's why Dennis Herrera's opposition to the Central Subway caused such a stir. It was the first dissent on an important issue.

Wooding shows that the RCV system is irredeemable and should be scrapped, since next month it will likely give us a mayor chosen by a minority of voters. The only good thing about RCV: it saves money by avoiding run-off elections, but it does so by dumbing down the political dialogue, the last thing we need in San Francisco, which is already essentially a one-party town.  

Supervisor Elsbernd has promised to introduce a ballot measure next year to repeal the Ranked Choice Voting system, which city voters will be ready to do after November.

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At 6:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I strongly agree that Ranked Choice Voting is a bad deal for everyone except perhaps some of the fringe candidates who stand more of a chance of getting elected with this crazy system (and who could never get elected in an actual runoff.) RCV is definitely anti-democratic, and prevents voters from getting to actually chose between two candidates. You are asked to chose your second- and third-choice candidates, but are never able to consider who they might be competing with. (Someone might feel differently about David Chiu vs. Tony Hall than they would about David Chiu vs. Ed Lee, for example.)

The other thing that needs to go away is our current system of public financing, which has laudable goals but fails in a real-world, pragmatic way. It encourages entrance into races by candidates with minimal support, and then essentially requires them to stay in the race, spending public money even when they have no chance of winning, because withdrawing from the race would require them to repay the public funds. There are a number of candidates in the current mayoral race who fall into this category. The result is the complete waste of millions of taxpayer dollars and a more confusing race for everyone, filled with zombie candidates who (even under RCV and its craziness) don't have a chance of ending up in Room 200.

At 3:25 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't care one way or the other, but the arguments don't hold water. If a fringe candidate gets a million second place votes, they will still lose.

Candidates like Dufty who have cozied up to Ed Lee and tried to get his second place votes will find out the folly of that strategy when he is eliminated early, having done nothing to distinguish himself vs any of the front runners in order to get first place votes. Second place votes behind Ed Lee don't mean anything unless you get more first place votes than Ed Lee. Which ain't gonna happen as long as you are cozying up to Ed Lee.

You don't get any points for second place votes unless you are being ranked behind someone who got less first place votes than you.

It makes good mathematical sense, but there is a problem in that Americans aren't very good at math. If it confuses the voters, then it doesn't work as intended.

At 5:18 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, if we end up with a Mayor Dufty, it would be an awful outcome. As a supervisor, he was spineless and without distinction. He betrayed the city by helping Supervisor Mirkarimi to deal away the old UC Extension property on lower Haight Street---zoned for "public use" for 150 years---to allow UC to cash in with a massive housing development.


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