Wednesday, June 06, 2018

RCV and the illusion of choice 3

A story---actually, it's a press release---in The Berkeley Daily Planet by Pedro Hernandez, one of the authors of Fair Vote's study on Ranked Choice Voting in San Francisco, was the first of a series of stories in the local print media supporting that stupid system.

Hernandez was apparently unclear about the task he was performing. As an author---and even an officer of Fair Vote---was he writing a press release about the just-released report, or was he writing a bylined story for The Berkeley Daily Planet? He ended up with both.

In his press release/pseudo-article, Hernandez quotes himself:

“Ranked choice voting is a key narrative in this year’s competitive mayoral election in San Francisco, and this report shows that voters are easily able to use ranked choice voting to cast their votes,” said Pedro Hernandez, deputy director of Fair Vote California and an author of the report. “RCV allows San Franciscans to vote for the candidates they prefer as opposed to wasting time trying to figure out how to game the system, so their vote isn’t wasted.” (New Report Finds San Francisco Voters Effectively Use Ranked Choice Voting---and it’s Getting Better).

Like the muddled thinking in Fair Vote's study, a vote is "wasted" if you simply vote for a losing candidate---aka, the candidate you "prefer"---without including second and third choices. If your first and only choice is just one candidate, you are presumably not using the RCV system properly.

Under the RCV system, you are supposed to pretend that there are so many good---or even acceptable---candidates that ranking them is the best way to vote in this wonderful political environment that provides so many choices. And if you vote for one candidate three times, you are a loser and wasting your vote/votes!

This foolishness is the political residue of the self-esteem movement of days of yore: everyone should get a trophy! And it's a shame---perhaps even a shortcoming---that our elections result in only one winner, which makes the losing candidates and their supporters sad.

In its May 31 edition, the SF Weekly verified that reality:

Finally, ranked-choice voting has the potential to help citywide morale after a race. This is a close race, and if it was conducted in a straightforward, plurality-winner election where whoever gets the most votes wins, that means that two-thirds of San Franciscans would feel disappointed with the results. By offering voters a second and third place choice, ranked-choice voting has the potential to reduce those June 6 blues.

Boo-fucking-hoo! Ranked Choice Voting is a self-esteem exercise for the whole city!

Added to this folly: RCV actually damages political campaigns by encouraging candidates to game the system by making deals, either implicit or explicit, with other candidates to get second and third choice votes, reducing the political content of campaigns. Or by encouraging candidates to de-emphasize any policy ideas that might alienate supporters of other candidates thereby making it less likely to get their second and third choices.

Way back in 2011, Matt Smith in the SF Weekly observed how RCV dumbed-down a political campaign before the election:

On April 29, the University of San Francisco hosted a debate that seemed to promise the first shots fired in the 2011 mayoral campaign. But in three hours of questions, answers, and follow-ups, I didn't hear a single utterance that would qualify as a "shot." Instead, candidates answered questions with statements such as "It's all about the people," and "I want to put the community first." Assessor Phil Ting, advised by the formerly cutthroat political consultant Eric Jaye, repeated pablum like "San Francisco is at its best when it is diverse"...

Board of Supervisors president David Chiu said that, as mayor, he'd appoint "community ambassadors" so he'd be more attuned to concerns of neighbors. Likewise, state Sen. Leland Yee (D-San Francisco) advocated getting "universities behind the idea of civic engagement" — and who in their right mind would argue, or vote, against that? Supervisor John Avalos, meanwhile, said several times that he was "committed to cooperative and collaborative politics." In neighborhood-association-dominated San Francisco, this is like proposing that ice cream be served cold.

The May 31 SF Weekly quotes London Breed saying that she has no second or third choices for mayor:

“London Breed is my No. 2 choice and London Breed is my No. 3 choice.” While it certainly made the point that she does not endorse any of her opponents for the No. 2 or No. 3 spots, it’s a misconception that the tactic of flooding ballots with one name will make any difference. “We generally discourage that, because it means that their vote will only be voted for once for that candidate,” Hernandez says.

That's simply untrue. Hernandez and the writer apparently don't understand the RCV system. If Breed isn't eliminated in the first round, the second round vote for herself will be counted. Ditto for her third vote if she isn't eliminated in the second round.

A Chronicle editorial makes the same mistake:

Here is an important point to know: Voting three times for one candidate does not enhance his or her chances. Doing so throws away a voter’s opportunity to have a say if the candidate is eliminated.

Of course if your candidate is eliminated in the first round, your second and third choices for the same candidate aren't counted. But if your candidate isn't eliminated in the first round, the second vote is counted, etc.

What critics of voting for one candidate three times really don't like: those voters refuse to pretend that other candidates are acceptable.  

Apparently the SF Weekly has gone downhill intellectually, since the writer not only doesn't understand how RCV works but doesn't know how voting works in San Francisco: 

With only one trip to the ballot, it also makes voting an easier feat for working-class or disabled citizens who may have a hard time reaching the polls twice to choose their candidate.

In San Francisco the polls are open from 7:00 a.m. until 8:00 p.m. If working people and the disabled still can't get to an actual polling place, they can always mail in their ballots.

Seems like RCV not only dumbs-down our campaigns and elections; it also makes people who write about our elections dumber.

More tomorrow.

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