An agenda as clear as 1, 2, 3


Downtown hates democracy. Entities like the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce and San Francisco Chronicle prefer elections with well-financed frontrunners willing to do their bidding. They don't like messy democratic exercises like this year's mayoral elections, in which the crowded field of solid, evenly matched candidates will be looking for support from progressives as part of their ranked-choice voting strategies and any of several candidates could win.

That's why the Chamber/Chronicle are hyperventilating about the ranked-choice voting system, which resulted in a candidate from outside the acceptable establishment becoming mayor of Oakland, a result they fear might also happen here. The latest attacks come in a pair of misleading stories in today's Chronicle, based on a loaded Chamber poll.

The main story ran front page above the fold, the big headline calling the seven-year-old voting system “a mystery” because the poll found many voters didn't know precise details about how votes are tabulated. And even though the poll found “voters evenly split on whether they prefer the current system or a runoff,” according to the story, columnist CW Nevius writes that the poll shows voters “would prefer a two-candidate runoff.”

No, Chuck, you and your fearful downtown cronies prefer elections like that: costly, low-turnout elections in which the better financed and more conservative candidate wins every time. But most people are content with the current system, and they have a strong record of knowing how to use it and how it basically works, which why the paper reluctantly admits at the end of the story that voters preferred this system more than 2-1 in a 2009 poll.

Even without knowing how the Chamber asked the question (we're still waiting for a response to our request to review the poll questions and data) in the current poll, and even in a newspaper with a consistent record of wanting to repeal this voting system along with other progressive reform like district election and public financing, as many respondents to this obviously leading poll said they preferred this system as did those who don't like it.

But you better believe that the Chronicle/Chamber are going to do everything they can to scare and confuse voters into losing confidence in ranked-choice voting. Spotting these thinly veiled Chronicle/Chamber crusades is as easy as 1, 2, 3.

UPDATE: The Chamber did forward us its poll questions, including this one: "As far as you know, in an election that uses ranked choice voting, if your first choice, second choice and third choice candidates are all eliminated when the votes are tallied, what happens .... (ROTATE) is your vote counted or is your vote not counted ... (READ LAST) or are you unsure?"

The results: 55 percent unsure, 29 percent "your vote is counted," 15 percent "your vote is not counted." And this confusing question is the basis for the Chron's conclusion that "a majority of voters don't know how the system works." Actually, voters seem to understand just fine that they get three choices, that they ranks them in order of preference, and that there is a system for reassigning their votes as their top choices are eliminated. In this question, one might argue that the voters whose top three candidates were eliminated had their votes counted three times. Or you could say it wasn't counted. It's basically a philosophical question that was clearly intended to confuse respondents, and it worked. But they only way that would justify the screamer headline and high play for this story is if the Chron/Chamber was pushing an agenda.


The Ex reports that Ross Mirkarimi and David Chiu each got an electric bike worth $2,000 a piece two years ago and never reported the gifts, as required by law.

The two politicians say the bikes weren't gifts. The two were just beta-testing them!

So how come you and I never get bikes like this to beta test? How come you have to be a politician who votes on bike policy for the city? Any guesses?

Mirkarimi wants to be sheriff. Chiu wants to be mayor.

These are the alternatives to politics as usual?

There's nothing progressive about cheesiness.

Click here:

Posted by Arthur Evans on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 2:08 pm

The next time I see him at a Burner fundraiser I am gonna give him a big, wet kiss on the cheek.

This column was funny - I appreciate your finely tuned sense of humor.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 3:35 pm

By all means, Lucretia, come out of the shadows, let us see who you are, take responsibility for your snarky contribution to the dialogue on our site.

Posted by steven on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

Hi Steven, I think you may have missed an important point here. You suggest that the Chamber would like to stifle democracy by going back to fewer candidates.

While it is true that they dislike the system, they also say that if it is to be used, then it should be used with MORE candidates:

If you understand their agenda, as you say, then can you explain what they're thinking here?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 4:49 pm

That's a good question, and I'm really not sure what the answer is except that it's one more way to criticize the ranked-choice voting system, which the Chamber opposes in concept, even if this change is made (as Rob Black said in the Bay Citizen piece). Clearly, the Chamber/Chronicle are pushing the idea that this system disenfranchises voters, an argument made in Ron Dudum's lawsuit that the courts have consistently rejected, and this reform idea feeds that perception. It's not a terrible idea, as even Steve Hill said, but if the Chamber/Chronicle really is concerned that the logistics of vote tabulation are confusing, being able to rank more than three choices would only make that problem worse and would probably also delay the final results, which critics of the system also complain about. It's just hard to take seriously people who say they want to improve a system that they admit that they want to destroy.

Posted by steven on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 1:58 pm

Why does having more choices mean that something is more democratic? For something to be more democratic, doesn't something also have to be more understandable and observable by the least educated and advantaged among us? If you need a degree in computer science to understand how IRV/RCV works, and to be able to trust the results of the elections, then it's not democratic - it's elitist!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

To allow more candidates a realistic shot at winning office if they can propose good ideas and run a solid campaign is necessarily more democratic than when a rich Establishment frontrunner backed by downtown can dictate the terms of debate. And nobody needs a computer science degree to understand how to rank their top three choices, something five-year-olds understand when you ask them to rank their top three flavors of ice cream. Gimme a break.

Posted by steven on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

The scare tactics employed by those who fear democracy usually all fall into the same category of failure - underestimating the intelligence of the electorate.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 2:48 pm

Why does having more choices mean that something is more democratic? For something to be more democratic, doesn't something also have to be more understandable and observable by the least educated and advantaged among us? If you need a degree in computer science to understand how IRV/RCV works, and to be able to trust the results of the elections, then it's not democratic - it's elitist!

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

Australians have been using IRV in one form or another since 1893. While I've found Australians, overall, to be generally nicer than U.S. Americans, they don't all hold computer science degrees and the citizenry understands their system just fine.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 6:47 pm

I voted for ranked choice voting. However, a glitch has developed with it that I didn't expect and that has given me second thoughts.

If there are only three or four serious contenders for an office, the process works pretty well. Most voters' votes are counted.

However, if there are ten serious candidates, there will likely be many "exhausted ballots." That is, many ballots will be eliminated from consideration before the distribution is made between the top two contenders.

This situation does not arise with a run-off. Every ballot in a run-off gets counted.

This glitch could happen with November's mayoral election. A sizable number of voters could end being disenfranchised when it comes to the last distribution, which is the crucial distribution.

There's nothing that's either democratic or progressive about not counting votes.

The system should be reformed. If a sizable number of serious contenders emerge for a race, there should be a run-off. Otherwise, use RCV.

There would be a question, of course, about who is a serious contender and who is not. Perhaps the matter could be resolved according to the number of people who sign the ballot petitions for candidacies. Or there may be another criterion. But the current situation needs to be fixed.

Posted by Arthur Evans on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 10:29 pm

Thanks for exposing just how confusing the survey question was.

Posted by David Cary on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 9:50 am

"It's the result of neighbors and residents of the Haight who see how the center undermines the Haight. "
-Arthur Evans on Mar. 10, 2011 @ 10:40 am

Was there some kind of vote?
How many "residents of the Haight" actually support this eviction?
My guess is about 20 very vocal nimbys, out of thousands of Haight residents.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 4:46 pm

A very simple fix to many of the perceived problems with RCV would be to extend the ballot to allow voters to vote for every candidate in order of their preference, basically PR STV. A reform like that would probably scare the crap out of the entrenched interests, bring forth more independent candidates and force candidates to walk their districts (if we don't go the whole way like Cambridge, MA and remove our districts).

To those complaining about "too many candidates" or asking "who is a serious contenders", you are playing a dangerous game. How about "too many voters?" or "who is a serious voter?" How does that sound?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 11, 2011 @ 2:37 pm

I'm sure that public comments aside, downtown and the Chamber likes this group of candidates just fine. None of them are remotely progressive, with Chiu being Clintoneseque as a wolf in sheep's clothing.

As I've written to Tim Redmond, because of a severe lack of affordable housing in the City, San Francisco is losing the cool people who make it what it is: artists, musicians, poets, radicals, etc. The damn yuppies are taking over, and they've already taken over the Board of Supervisors with that jerk Chiu's help. As the rich move in and everyone else is forced out, this will only get worse. Looks like you have to move to Oakland if you don't have some type of sellout job and/or just want to do cool thinks like art and music, and not concentrate on making lots of money.

Posted by Jeff Hoffman on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 3:52 pm

"The damn yuppies are taking over... "

The corporatists are taking over. They are taking over all over.

Posted by Jorge Orwell 1984 on Mar. 12, 2011 @ 4:36 pm