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.