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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Who Understands Ranked-Choice Voting? Nobody.

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2011 at 8:23 AM

Nobody understands ranked-choice voting ... especially the politicians who lose
  • Nobody understands ranked-choice voting ... especially the politicians who lose

The one thing that makes perfect sense about ranked-choice voting is that nobody seems to understand it.

And a new poll validated this notion recently. According to a Chamber of Commerce poll, more than half of those who responded indicated that they don't understand if or how their vote counts; in other words they don't get it.

"It's clear that San Francisco voters understand ranked-choice voting

about as well as they understand quantum physics," said Nathan Ballard, a

Democratic strategist tells the Chronicle.

And how will that play out as we head into the crowded mayoral race, with at least eight serious contenders?

Your least favorite candidate can be crowned mayor, that's how.

We saw what happened in Oakland when Mayor Jean Quan unexpectedly jumped ahead of Don Perata in the race, despite the fact that he had far more first choice votes. Perata lost and joined a growing list of deflated pols who call the voting system "confusing."

But if you are still reading, here is how it works: Voters list their first, second, and third choice candidates. If no candidate wins more than half the vote, then the last-place candidates are cut. Each vote for the eliminated candidates is transferred to the voter's second choice, and this process continues until someone wins a majority.

So it's kind of fair and it's kind of not. Proponents have long argued that it saves money on runoffs, and it helps diffuse negative campaigning, which, as we have pointed out before, is the one thing voters seem to really understand.

Yet Steven Hill, a consultant who helped draft ranked-choice voting systems for San Francisco and Oakland, argued that you don't really need to understand ranked-choice voting to make the system work

"Most people don't understand how your car works, or how your computer works or how your phone works," Hill said. "But they know how to use it, and they're comfortable with it."

Well, that actually does make sense. 

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About The Author

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert

Erin Sherbert was the Online News Editor for SF Weekly from 2010 to 2015. She's a Texas native and has a closet full of cowboy boots to prove it.


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