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 I wish I could say that it was because Supervisor Christina Olague had withdrawn her support and so he didn’t have six votes to put a repeal on the ballot.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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