How Representation is Better Under Ranked Choice Voting

Posted by Sofia Arreola on July 25, 2018

Sofia.jpgAs a young Latina student I feel included in my community, but simultaneously, I know that I am not always at the table. From unequal opportunities in the education system to strange looks on my commute, the urge and push to succeed has not been discouraged, but rather increased.

San Francisco has always been a bubble. By saying this, I mean to acknowledge the difference it is to live here compared to other cities and counties. There are unequal opportunities everywhere, but something that I deeply appreciate is that we are not complicit nor do we simply ignore the issues that people in our communities are facing. San Francisco takes into account each others differences and needs, and tries to create a space that includes both of these things. An example of this is ranked choice voting (RCV).

Generally, many people don’t think about the way we elect leaders. In my mind, the manner in which we vote was simply between two people. I did not think that voting considered many other factors, like what happens when more than two candidates run for the same seat. San Francisco uses RCV to elect many of its city officers. I was not too familiar with RCV until this most recent election.

However, I was surprised by how much more inclusive this system really was. RCV truly considers how important representation is for a community to thrive and how important it is to have everyone's voice be heard.

RCV allows voters to rank candidates in order of their preference. Voters get a first choice, and a second, and third choice as back ups in San Francisco. This means no second election and no risk of lower voter turnout. We can have a winner elected with the majority in a single election. Having a second and third choice as a backup allows voters to have their ballots used to the fullest extent because if their first choice candidate does not win, then their second choice vote can still be counted.

Under RCV, all first choice votes are counted and if a candidate receives a majority, 50%+1 of votes, they win. If not, the candidate with the fewest first choices is defeated, and the ballots for that candidate go to those voters second choices. This process is repeated until a candidate reaches 50%+1 votes.   

Sofia2.jpgLast month San Francisco had a very close mayoral election. The three main candidates were Jane Kim, Mark Leno, and our new mayor, London Breed. When the San Francisco Department of Elections counted the first choices of voters, London Breed received 36.7% of the vote, Mark Leno had 24.5%, and Jane Kim received 24.2%. However, no one had a majority, therefore, an “instant runoff” was triggered. The candidates with the fewest votes were defeated, which included Michelle Bravo, Amy Farah Weiss, Richie Greenberg, Ellen Lee Zhou, and Angela Alioto. When Jane Kim was eliminated, 77% of her votes went to Mark Leno. The final count of votes for Mark Leno was 49.4% and for London Breed it was 50.6%. This left London Breed with a clear majority win of 50%+1.

As mentioned earlier, I did not appreciate how RCV is an inclusive voting system. However, looking at statistics and facts from this past mayoral election, I have now gained deeper insight on how this benefits the diverse neighborhoods of San Francisco.

For example, under other voting systems, like winner-take-all, a candidate only needs the most votes to win, this does not mean that they receive a majority. Say there are three candidates, Candidate A, B, and C. Candidate A receives 30%, candidate B 27%, and candidate C 43%. Candidate C would have won simply because they received the most votes even though a large majority voted for someone else. This would not be very representative.

Whereas, under RCV, when there are more than two candidates, you can get a majority winner without a second election. Typically, under San Francisco’s old runoff system, less people turned out to vote in the second election. These second elections were not as diverse nor representative. RCV lets you have greater choices in order to ensure your vote is counted.

With RCV, a second election avoided and more voters would have their voices heard. Even if they did not get their first choice elected, their second and third choice still would have a chance.

Something that I, like many San Franciscans, seek diversity and a sense of inclusion.I appreciate that RCV actually helps get more women and people of color elected to office. Additionally, since 2004 there have been many more people of color running and winning due to the positive effects of RCV. Unfortunately, in many occasions districts that have smaller amounts of people of color get ignored through the winner-take-all system since a majority vote would most likely not be who they collectively voted for.

Another form of RCV, where you elect more than one person to office, could avoid the issues of “packing” and “cracking” and gerrymandering. “Packing” is the method of concentrating specific types of voters and putting them into one district to reduce the possibility of them influencing other districts. “Cracking” is the process of spreading around voters of a certain type across various district lines that evidently does not allow them a large voting bloc. This ultimately makes representation much more difficult to achieve.

With benefits such as more people of color getting elected through a more diverse electorate, and no more runoff elections, RCV has become a much needed reform that would allow fairer representation. It most certainly does seem to help out with allowing more diversity and representation for all inhabitants of San Francisco despite their ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender.

Sofia Arreola is a Coro Fellow and a rising Junior at Lowell High School in San Francisco. Arreola has a passion for social justice and describes herself as observational, strong minded, hopeful, and compassionate. She has been active in Huckleberry Wellness Academy, and  Mock Trial. Sofia wants to use her time in Exploring Leadership to learn how to make tangible changes in the world, and to be able to lead both in her academics and future professional endeavors.