The November 2011 election will be the first time that a mayor of San Francisco will be elected using ranked-choice voting, also known as RCV or instant run-off voting. This system, which was passed by San Francisco voters in 2002, has been use for elections of supervisors, the assessor-recorder, treasurer, district attorney, public defender, and city attorney.
But, as I said, 2011 is the first time it will be used for the mayor’s race.
First, how does it work? From SFElections.org:
To start, every first-choice vote is counted. Any candidate who receives a majority (more than 50%) of the first-choice votes is declared the winner.Â If no candidate receives more than 50% of the first-choice votes, a process of eliminating candidates and transferring votes begins.
First, the candidate who received the fewest number of first-choice votes is eliminated from the race.
Second, voters who selected the eliminated candidate as their first choice will have their vote transferred to their second choice.
Third, all the votes are recounted.
Once the votes are recounted, if any candidate has received more than 50% of the votes, he or she is declared the winner.
If no candidate receives more than 50% of the votes, the process of eliminating candidates and transferring votes is repeated until one candidate has a winning majority.
Makes perfect sense, right? Well, yes and no. Or maybe. I’m not a political scientist, but I wasn’t sure that ranked-choice voting served its purpose in the Oakland mayoral race in 2010, in which Jean Quan was elected despite the fact that when “first-place votes were initially counted after the Nov. 2 election, Quan had just 24 percent, and [Don] Perata had 35 percent. But Quan proved to be a more popular second and third choice among supporters of the other eight candidates, and in the end, she had 51 percent to Perata’s 49 percent.” (NB: I live in SF, not Oakland, so I didn’t examine the candidates’ positions and I’m not making any judgment about Mayor Quan.)
Closer to home, Malia Cohen was elected Supervisor in District 10 in November 2010. As with the mayoral race in Oakland, ranked-choice voting raised a few hackles because: “After no candidate could be declared a winner when first-place votes were counted, it took 19 runs of redistributing second and third choices to declare Cohen the winner. But she had just 4,173 of the 19,669 votes cast, or 21 percent. In other words, 79 percent of the ballots in the district did not even include her name.” Again, I’m not making a judgment about Malia Cohen; I’m pointing out the controversy about ranked-choice voting.
So, in an extremely crowded mayoral race here in SF, what alliances will be formed as candidates band together to encourage voters to pick them as #1, #2, and #3? Will someone who didn’t get votes from 79 percent of the voting populace become the next mayor? I have no doubt that some of the 30+ candidates will drop out prior to the election, but if there are even a dozen candidates, I’d say we might be in for some big surprises on election night.