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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Don Perata Deserved to Lose

Posted By on Thu, Nov 11, 2010 at 11:59 AM

click to enlarge Don Perata forgot to read the instructions before opening the package
  • Don Perata forgot to read the instructions before opening the package

Don Perata today conceded the race for Oakland mayor, capping an improbable victory for Councilwoman Jean Quan. We'll never know if Perata would have been a better mayor than Quan. But we already know that Quan certainly deserved to be mayor more than Perata.

Perata spent metric shitloads of money while skipping debates, treating his opponents like peons, and generally assuming this was a coronation. Worst of all, while he apparently knew full well that ranked-choice voting was a problem for him, he ran as if it didn't exist.

His statement today that he'd have won easily in a conventional election was telling. Sure he would have. And if my mother had wheels, she'd be a bicycle.

Quite simply, you don't sign up to play football and show up with a strategy befitting rugby. And you don't get into an RCV election without an RCV strategy. Quan and others knew the benefit of picking up second and third votes. Perata didn't try or didn't care.

The fact that powerful politicians have lost and San Francisco races have taken more twists and turns than Highway 1 has, naturally, led some to question the validity of ranked-choice voting. Both C.W. Nevius and Ken Garcia today shat upon the system.

Nevius is a reasonable guy -- and, frankly, it's good for RCV to be questioned because its supporters really do seem to think it's the greatest invention in the history of the universe. Garcia, however, writes in a fashion that makes one question his ability to be an organ donor.

click to enlarge Ed Jew, the bogeyman of ranked-choice voting
  • Ed Jew, the bogeyman of ranked-choice voting
While the manner in which ranked-choice voting is tabulated is difficult to comprehend, the mindset of a voter is not: Vote for your favorite, second-favorite, and third-favorite. Simple.

RCV is not the cure for all of the political system's shortcomings. But it's hardly antidemocratic. Quite simply, there is no ideal situation to decide who should win a situation like the District 10 field, in which more than 20 candidates split some 17,000 votes. How is it less democratic for RCV to divvy up second- and third-place votes than to pick the top two vote-getters -- each of whom amassed barely over 1,000 votes and outpolled other candidates by 100 or so tallies -- and then run them against each other? How is it acceptably democratic for Tony Kelly to make a runoff with 1,200 votes, but undemocratic for Malia Cohen to beat him out with 3,700 RCV-adjusted votes?

Once all three of a voter's ranked choices are eliminated, his or her ballot is deemed "exhausted" and is no longer a factor in the race. Garcia deems this a travesty. This is odd, as in a conventional election, your ballot is "exhausted" as soon as you cast it for the non-winner.

You'll see plenty of exhausted ballots in a situation like District 10, in which virtually everyone who lives in the neighborhood was running for office. But in, say, District 2, the number was quite small. Over in the Marina, 20,406 votes factored into the final tally out of 25,281 cast. Do you think a December runoff could have gotten 80-plus percent of the turnout of a general election? If so, you're rather optimistic.

This gets to the heart of the situation -- neither electoral system is a panacea. RCV isn't as complicated as Garcia would like us to think, but it is complicated enough that anyone wishing to assail it can pound his fist on the table and bellow "one man, one vote." Meanwhile, the alternative is to run two candidates who may have grabbed less than a quarter of the vote between them against one another in a December runoff no one will show up to vote in.

You can make arguments either way. But if your best contention is that, under a conventional system, the hapless Ron Dudum would have beaten out the criminal Ed Jew four years ago in District 4 -- well, you lose.

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About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


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