Monday, July 23, 2018

Ranked Choice Voting and the illusion of choice #5

London Breed

​In their long (4,681 words!) and unconvincing defense of Ranked Choice Voting on 48 Hills, Steven Hill and Tim Redmond make the same arguments I've been debunking here for months:

"The Milk Club, Sierra Club, Community Tenants Association, and Tenants Union all promoted a dual-endorsement strategy for Mark Leno and Jane Kim."

Of course they did. It makes sense if you have to operate within the RCV system. And as two San Francisco progressives, the significant political differences between Kim and Leno aren't apparent. 

But in a run-off system---that is, where two candidates with the most votes in the primary compete in a run-off election---Kim could have, for example, effectively hammered Leno for his demagogic claim that he would end homelessness in San Francisco by 2020:

"In the four Bay Area cities using RCV—including Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro—women of color have seen a 64% rise in their election rate. Women have been elected to six of the ten elected Board of Supervisor seats in San Francisco (one current seat was appointed to fill a vacancy). A few years ago, Oakland elected the first-ever Asian-American woman as mayor; San Francisco just elected its first African-American female mayor."

To party-line "progressives" like Hill and Redmond, electing women and people of color is automatically a Good Thing. I've blogged about the folly and futility of playing the race/identity card in SF more than 20 times over the years (for example: Identity politics: Still a deadend). My argument: 

There's no distinctive gay, feminist, black, white, or Asian policy on, say, development in San Francisco or on Muni. Every group, regardless of its identity, has to struggle with the same policy issues.

Yes, "San Francisco just elected its first African-American female mayor," but as District 5 Supervisor she's been seriously deficient or, at best, undistinguished on policy. And, not coincidentally, Breed was only elected in the first place because of the flawed RCV voting system:

"Now voters can vote sincerely for their favorites, knowing they aren’t throwing away their vote because they can always rank a backup choice as their second pick."

The fatuous assumption behind this is that there are always a number of good or even acceptable candidates on the ballot. The reality for many---maybe most---city voters: it's often hard to find even one candidate worth voting for, let alone two or more:

"Was Jane Kim a spoiler candidate in the mayor’s race? [Calvin]Welch advances his critique that, in running for mayor in the June 5 election, progressives committed “folly” by allowing two candidates in the race, causing what Welch calls a “split vote.” While Welch doesn’t say it, the clear implication is that Supervisor Jane Kim was a spoiler to former State Senator Mark Leno, meaning that Kim siphoned away enough votes from Leno to hand the victory to Breed."

Before the election Kim routinely polled close to Leno and, in the first round of voting in the system, Leno beat her by only 632 votes: 61,276 to 60,644. Kim's supporters could just as plausibly accuse Leno of being a spoiler.

Hill and Redmond reject the Kim-as-spoiler argument with this:

"So the real data shows that Jane Kim was in fact not a spoiler, neither in District 8 nor citywide. Not by a long shot. And the progressive vote did not split, in fact her supporters’ second and third rankings transferred to Leno at such a high rate that Leno came within a razor thin margin (1.1%) of winning the mayoral election."

Yes, but this ignores the reality: if there had been only one certifiably "progressive" candidate in the race with name recognition, progressives would have won the mayor's office easily.

Hill and Redmond make a fetish out of turnout itself, as if the sheer number of people voting shows the RCV system's superiority:

"This election also was a high-water mark for local democracy. Spurred in part by the Leno-Kim strategy of “collaborative campaigning,” voter turnout surged, topping 250,000 ballots, the second most in a mayoral election in San Francisco history. More votes were cast for mayor than for governor or U.S. Senator. Kim’s vote total nearly surpassed Leno’s as the leading progressive candidate in the race. Her campaign’s voter mobilization was quite impressive, and it’s likely that a number of Kim voters would not have returned to the polls to vote for Mark Leno in a separate runoff election once Kim was out of the race."

But the campaign itself was virtually issue-free, with Breed's support for the Yimby approach to housing the only widely recognized difference between, Kim, Leno, and Breed, all of whom are more or less liberal Democrats. 

But a run-off between either Kim or Leno against London Breed would have been revealing. Breed could have highlighted Leno's demagoguery on the homeless issue, and either Leno or Kim could have hammered Breed for her many questionable policy positions:

"So here are two very different strategies for runoff elections---an instant runoff versus a separate (second round) runoff---founded on two different visions of politics. One is inclusive, encouraging candidates, coalitions and mobilization of their supporters, as the basis for a vibrant, rainbow movement. The other is exclusive, cadre-driven and forces out non-preferred candidates. Which is best, which is right, which is fair? It is a crucial question to decide."

Oh yes, those traditional run-off elections are so negative and "exclusive," with the two candidates actually criticizing the policies and politics of their opponent, forcing voters to reject a "non-preferred candidate" based on the issues, instead of creating "a vibrant, rainbow movement" under RCV.

And the losing candidate and his/her followers are bummed out. No trophy or vibrancy for them! Nothing but "polarization and division," instead of that wonderful "collaborative campaigning" by Kim and Leno under the RCV system.

Hill and Redmond wrap their lengthy, unconvincing defense of the system with this absurdity:

"With RCV, progressives certainly won’t win every race. Moderates and conservatives can and will adopt tactics like “collaborative campaigning,” in order to further their own electoral prospects. But on the whole, RCV has been working well, and it’s about to get even better. Starting in 2019, San Francisco will finally get voting equipment that allows voters the option of ranking up to ten candidates..."[emphasis added]

In a local political context where it's usually hard to find---or know enough about---even one candidate, let's have ten choices! this at least carries the argument for RCV to a logical and nutty conclusion.

One important distinction between local and state/national elections: voting for a Democrat you don't know much about---or don't really like much---over a Republican or vice versa makes sense in a national or state election. Democrats and Republicans understand what their parties stand for and what they're essentially getting with Nancy Pelosi or her Republican opponent. You can vote for the party without worrying that, say, Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein are going to flip and start supporting President Trump.

But knowing enough to distinguish between candidates in an essentially one-party city like San Francisco is trickier and requires knowing something about local issues. The RCV system downgrades the debate on those issues, as the Citizens Advisory Committee on Elections warned us in 2002 when RCV was on the ballot:

...there could be collusion between various candidates to be listed on each other’s campaign literature as their second or third choices. The cost of that collusion would be to reduce the level of meaningful debate on the issues and to hide ideological differences. The losers would be the voters and the media who would be unable to discern one candidate from another.

See also Ranked Choice Voting and the Illusion of choice #2.

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At 8:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bottom line for me, Leno and Kim just need go away and not return. Sorry that sounds harsh but honestly for my soma neighborhood they have done zero for us. In fact, in many ways things have gotten much worse on their watch. Leno in particular, believe it or not, carried legislation for his buddy Terrance Allen that helped big entertainment destroy our residential life in soma. What people don't understand is that housing has been here since before the fire and earthquake! I hear people say don't move to where clubs are located, heck i have lived here for 25 years and residential has been here much longer. It is the clubs that moved next to us. Leno carried legislation for the Late Night Entertainment coalition which is essentially led by Allen. Allen was kicked off the SF Entertainment commission because of conflict of interest. I just don't get how pols think they can work the "pay to play" campaign contribution thing, destroy neighborhoods filled with people that vote in elections, then believe it won't come back to them!

Same goes for Kim...carpetbagger.

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Rob Anderson said...

Yes, Kim began her campaign to be a supervisor by moving into District 6 after the awful Chris Daly was termed out. Leno is stupid the same way as many SF progressives: the bicycle fantasy, the high-speed rail boondoggle, allowing UC to rip off the UC Extension site on lower Haight Street, etc.


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