Update on Ranked Choice Voting in San Francisco

Written by Steven Hill. Posted in Opinion, Politics

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Published on September 28, 2012 with 13 Comments

By Steven Hill

Editor’s Note: Mr. Hill is known as the architect of Ranked Choice Voting in San Francisco.

September 28, 2012

I am happy to report that we were able to beat back the attacks on Ranked Choice Voting in both San Francisco and Oakland. These were very serious and well-coordinated attacks by the San Francisco Chronicle, Chamber of Commerce and other conservative forces, enlisting most recently Republican Silicon Valley billionaire Ron Conway and, of course, Supervisors Mark Farrell and Sean Elsbernd.

The latest attack began immediately after the supervisorial races in November 2010, and they relentlessly pursued their agenda over the next two years, including filing a bogus lawsuit (that was unanimously rejected by the federal courts), putting the squeeze on Supervisor Christina Olague, and other political hardball tactics. Not only in San Francisco but also in Oakland, where there was a serious repeal effort led by allies of former Senate Pro Tem Don Perata (who lost Oakland’s last mayoral election in a close RCV contest), such as Larry Tramutola (who cherrypicked the results from his own poll in order to paint RCV in a negative light), who attacked Mayor Jean Quan and mounted a failed recall attempt of Quan.

I’m happy to report that at this point all these attacks have failed to result in anti-RCV ballot measures. For a while in the summer, it really was looking 95 percent certain that we would have repeal measures on the November ballot in both San Francisco and Oakland. It’s still not completely clear to me why Supervisor Mark Farrell folded up his cards in July at a Board of Supervisors meeting. I wish I could say that it was because Supervisor Christina Olague had withdrawn her support and so he didn’t have six votes to put a repeal on the ballot. But I don’t have any information or indication that was the case, unfortunately Christina was unable to resist the pressure put upon her by Mayor Ed Lee and his holy roller donor Ron Conway, despite claiming that she supports RCV (though she told me she has some “concerns” about RCV, but she was never able to really articulate what those were).

Apparently Supervisor Farrell was intimidated by having his repeal proposal going head-to-head on the November ballot with Supervisor David Chiu’s proposal (which would have allowed a second/runoff election in December for the mayor’s race, but would have used RCV to narrow the field to two candidates). Apparently he was afraid that in such a climate his would lose, and I think he is quite right about that. Supervisor Farrell has made some noise about gathering signatures for an initiative, but he must know that even if he gathers signatures for a measure, there’s nothing that prevents six votes on the Board of Supervisors from matching that with another version of Supervisor Chiu’s proposal.

At any rate, despite the opponents having far more resources, a dedicated group of supporters stepped up to the plate and did what was necessary to turn back these repeal efforts, mobilizing the strong RCV support that exists in San Francisco.

My favorite recent RCV factoid: 18 offices are elected in San Francisco using RCV, including mayor, district attorney, Board of Supervisors and more. Of those 18 offices, 15 of them (83 percent) are held by minority officials – the highest percentage of any major city in the United States. Yet Supervisor Farrell and other critics tried to claim that RCV is too complicated and that communities of color are being disenfranchised. But as I have asked him several times, if RCV is so confusing for people of color, how have those communities achieved such stunning electoral success? He has yet to give me an answer to that question.

Anyway, thanks to everyone for all of your help. And special thanks to Supervisors David Chiu and David Campos and their great staff. Of course, we have to remain ever-vigilant. The forces of reaction and de-form are always looking for ways to undermine our democratic gains. The past few years have made it abundantly clear that those of privilege and wealth are waging a battle against the rest of us, both nationally and on the local scene. We can’t let the local one-percenters and their proxies roll back our democratic achievements, whether it’s for RCV, public financing of campaigns, ethics laws, campaign finance disclosure, reporting requirements and more.

Remember, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good women and men do nothing. Or, as Neil Young once put it, “Rust never sleeps.” ;-)

Steven Hill

Steven Hill

Steven Hill is a writer, columnist and political professional based in the Bay area who is a frequent speaker at academic, government, NGO and business events, speaking on a wide range of topics related to political economy, political reform, climate change, global complexity, geo-strategy and trends. Mr. Hill is the author of several books including "Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope for an Insecure Age (www.EuropesPromise.org)" and "10 Steps to Repair American Democracy, 2012 Election Edition" (www.10Steps.net). His articles and interviews have appeared in media around the world, including the New York Times, Washington Post, the BBC, National Public Radio, Fox News, C-Span, Democracy Now, International Herald Tribune, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, Los Angeles Times, New York Daily News, The Nation, Washington Monthly, Salon, Slate, Politico, HuffingtonPost, American Prospect, Die Zeit, International Politik (Germany), Project Syndicate, Le Monde Diplomatique, Hürriyet Daily News (Turkey), Courrier Japon, Taiwan News, Korea Herald, Montreal Review, India Times, Burma Digest, Egypt Daily News, Ms., Sierra and many others. His website is www.Steven-Hill.com.

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  • el Greco

    Thank god, RCV helped Oakland get a strong, decisive, visionary mayor like Quan in office.  

    • http://twitter.com/pinkbarrio rosa barrio

      “…a strong, decisive, visionary mayor like Quan in office.”

      Is this what you mean by, “strong, decisive and visionary?:”

      Occupy Oakland: Iraq war veteran in critical condition after police clashes
      http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/oct/26/occupy-oakland-veteran-critical-condition

      • el Greco

         It’s called sarcasm, Rosa.  Quan is an embarrassment to Oakland, if such a thing is possible.

        • http://twitter.com/pinkbarrio rosa barrio

          “It’s called sarcasm, Rosa.”

          Oh okay.  It’s sometimes difficult to “read” sarcasm in comments when one does not know the person writing the comment, and considering some people really believe what you (sarcastically) wrote about Ms Quan.

          • el Greco

            Everyone I know who lives in Oakland thinks Quan is qualified to run a school bake sale and nothing more.  I would question whether she even meets that level of competency.

  • Greg

    Thanks for all your hard work on this issue, Steven. Just goes to show that you have to remain vigilant.

  • Commodius_vicus

    Two words: Jean Quan.

    Voting is too important to play with. Whomever gets the most votes wins, and if nobody does, you go again.

    Really San Franciso, it’s an invitation to mediocrity.

    • Greg

      “Whomever gets the most votes wins, and if nobody does, you go again.”
      Which is exactly what happens in RCV -on the same day, while everyone’s still paying attention to the election. 

      PS… Jean Quan is way better than the alternative. Perata should be in court defending himself on criminal corruption charges, not trying to overturn the will of the voters. 

    • http://twitter.com/pinkbarrio rosa barrio

      “Whomever gets the most votes wins…”

      Not necessarily and how long have you been thinking that?  There’s something called election fraud and (rare) voter fraud in elections.

      There are also easily-hackable electronic voting machines all over this nation (that’s part of election fraud).

      Argonne researchers ‘hack’ Diebold e-voting system
      Breaking into system using a $10 electronic component was ‘ridiculously easy,’ says official at national researchlab
      http://www.computerworld.com/s/article/9220356/Argonne_researchers_hack_Diebold_e_voting_system_

      And there are many other credible sources/articles about easily-hackable e-voting machines.

    • Chard

      by “invitation to mediocrity” you must mean “whoever has less money.”

  • Guest

    sounds like steve isn’t making a very good living.  I’m sure he would be happier with a higher income – ecstatic at making over a million $.  we should all aspire to this.

  • http://district5diary.blogspot.com/ Rob Anderson

    Like Critical Mass, Octavia Blvd., and graffiti/tagging as an art genre, RCV is another progressive fiasco. They have to meddle even with the election process. Skewing city elections artificially to the left with district elections isn’t enough for city progs. Getting the most votes in an election isn’t good enough any more! Malia Cohen is elected supervisor with a little more than 2,000 of the original 20,000 votes cast. That’s just grotesque.
    http://district5diary.blogspot.com/2011/10/ranked-choice-voting-another-prog.html

    • http://twitter.com/pinkbarrio rosa barrio

      Well considering there are now only two “reliable progressives” (as another publication described them) remaining on the Board it would appear that RCV hasn’t done much “skewing” of elections to the left.  That conservative (charading as “moderate”) D8 supervisor who shall remain nameless got on the Board under the same system and there was a “progressive” (although Mandelman ran from the word) in that same election.  And considering the speed at which this city is moving to the right, I don’t think you have too much to worry about.  You’ll likely have things as you want them very soon.  As for Critical Mass, some people ride with them for the fresh cool air and exercise and it helps their disposition.  Maybe others should try it, even those who aren’t clear on the concept.