From second to first - Page 2

Election shows how ranked-choice voting can topple unpopular frontrunners and strengthen political coalitions

District 10 supervisor-elect Malia Cohen (left) rose from fourth place on election night to overtake lead vote-getter Tony Kelly

But many observers also say the situation in Oakland was a perfect storm of opposition to a single candidate, Perata, who professed ignorance about how RCV worked.

"I don't think we'll see something like this again, but it adds to what's possible," said David Latterman, a political consultant who works primarily with downtown-backed candidates.

Jim Stearns, a consultant who represents more progressive candidates, said moderate candidates with money usually prevail in runoff elections, and that probably would have been the case in Oakland if voters hadn't switched to RCV: "I think you would have had a very different result if you'd had a runoff."

Yet most political consultants still don't like RCV, particularly those who work with downtown candidates. "RCV just probably won two races for me, coming from behind, and I still don't like it," said Latterman, who worked with Cohen and D2 winner Mark Farrell. "I like runoffs. I like candidates having to reach out and prove themselves."

Of course, that system favored candidates who have the resources to reach out and target a voter base that is generally smaller and more conservative than in regular elections. But all the consultants are now trying to figure out how to make RCV work.

"The priority of any candidate in ranked-choice is to build your base," Stearns, who is now working on Leland Yee's mayoral campaign, told us. After that, the strategy is about identifying other candidates whose bases would also support your candidate and figuring out how to reach them. "Ranked-choice voting is a labor-intensive thing because you have to talk to everyone within that short window."

But even Latterman said RCV will be a factor in next year's San Francisco mayor's race given what happened in Oakland this year. "For the first time a second place strategy worked and it can't be ignored anymore," Latterman said.

Hill said the progressive candidates and political consultants in San Francisco still need to learn how to work together to increase the turnout of their voters, sell swing voters on the progressive message and policies, and seek to win the race without undercutting those first two goals.

"How do you broaden your coalition and can you do that by having other progressives in the race?" Hill said. "These are the sorts of questions that progressives have to ask."

Unfortunately, Hill hasn't seen evidence that progressive campaigns in San Francisco have figured this out, noting how progressive supervisorial campaigns have instead criticized each other in the last few election cycles, such as this year's D6 race between Jane Kim and Debra Walker.

"That's the kind of behavior we still see from progressives in San Francisco, but that progressives in Oakland have already overcome," Hill said. "Unfortunately, conservatives may figure this out first."

Ultimately, Hill said that for progressive candidates to run strong ranked-choice voting campaigns against better-financed moderate candidates in a high-stakes election like the mayor's race, they need to be a little bit selfless: "The progressive candidates need to care less about whether they win individually than that a progressive wins."


How does it help progressives when moderates win?

Posted by D10 Voter on Nov. 17, 2010 @ 12:11 am

Why do people keep running to David Latterman for insight, the expert who opined that it was "mathematically impossible" for Quan to win?

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2010 @ 8:06 am

It seems to me that RCV has a huge flaw. In the D10 Supervisor election a majority of voters (9084) who voted for a Supervisor candidate did not vote for either Malia Cohen (4146) or Tony Kelly (3731) among their three ranked choice votes, so their votes were eliminated. Ms Cohen's 52% win is really only 24% of the votes cast.

RCV promised majority wins without the need for run-off elections. With a largish field of candidates, a fair number of viable candidates, and the limitation of only three ranked choice votes, it's easy for a majority of voters to have cast three votes for Tran, Sweet, Moss, Lacy, Jackson, etc,.etc. and therefore be eliminated from the final decision between Cohen and Kelly.

If the voting machines can't be fixed to allow for more than three ranked choice votes, then the rules could be altered to say that when a majority of votes are eliminated ("exhausted"), then the process stops and a vote-by-mail run-off election is held two or three weeks later.

If RCV is really a progressive idea, then it's up to progressives to not ignore its flaws, and to take leadership to fix them.

Posted by Guest Coach Bob on Nov. 17, 2010 @ 9:33 am

Going back to a low-turnout runoff election is not a solution to what you claim are flaws in RCV, Coach Bob. Elections can be decided by a plurality of votes, or through a parlimentary system, or by RCV's system for eliminating and redistributing votes until one candidate has a majority of the votes that remain. There is nothing inherently democratic about winning a majority of votes from a minority of registered voters (which is usually what happens in runoff elections) or undemocratic about the RCV system, as a San Francisco judge ruled earlier this year. As long as the rules are clear then all the candidates have an equal shot at winning.

Posted by steven on Nov. 17, 2010 @ 3:57 pm

Actually it's worse than 23% for Malia Cohen. The latest RCV spreadsheet shows that there were 19669 ballots cast. Each ballot included a potential 3 votes for supervisor. That means there were 59007 potential votes. Malia Cohen got a total (1st, 2nd and 3rd choices) of 4173 votes. That's about 7%. Ridiculous.

And steven, I remember the runoff election between Gonzales and Newsom. It was riveting. With 21 candidates in District 10 I would have relished the opportunity to get to know the top contenders better. I've been talking to my neighbors the last few days and frankly we all feel like we got ripped off.

Bring back the runoff!

Posted by D10 Voter on Nov. 17, 2010 @ 5:39 pm

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