Olague is the swing vote on voting system repeal

Sup. Christina Olague was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the vacant D5 seat earlier this year.

Conservative Sup. Mark Farrell's effort to repeal San Francisco's ranked-choice voting system for citywide elected officials is headed to the Board of Supervisors tomorrow, and all eyes are on swing vote Sup. Christina Olague. She surprised her longtime progressive allies with her early co-sponsorship of the measure when it was introduced in March, but she's now expressing doubts about the measure.

The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell and Sup. Sean Elsbernd to repeal RCV outright, but then Farrell tried again with a measure that excludes supervisorial elections and has a primary election in September, and if nobody gets 65 percent of the vote then the two two finishers have a runoff in November.

“I'm not going to support something that calls for a runoff in September,” Olague told the Guardian, referring to the primary election, although she did echo the concerns from RCV's critics who claim that it confuses voters. She also said that it hasn't helped elect more progressives and that “some progressives I talked to aren't 100 percent behind it.”

Such talk worries Steven Hill, the activist who helped create the voter-approved system, and who has been battling to shore up support for it in the face of concerted attacks by more conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, and downtown interests, all of whom preferred the old system of low-turnout, big-money December runoff elections.

“I think it's working well. San Francisco saves a ton of money by not having two elections,” Hill said. He said downtown money will skew the runoffs elections even more in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling allowing unlimited political spending. “With Citizen's United,” he said, “they'll just do a ton of independent expenditures.”

He said Olague had told him she intended to withdraw her co-sponsorship of the measure, but she hadn't done so yet. Olague told us that she wanted to discuss the matter with Farrell before withdrawing her support, that she hasn't been able to reach him yet, and that she's been focused on other issues she considers more important, such as crime prevention.

The measure currently is being co-sponsored by the board's five most conservative supervisors and Olague, meaning it will go before voters on the November ballot if they all remain supportive. Hill said that the measure may not be voted on tomorrow because of an administrative snafu dealing with noticing requirements, but the hearing would proceed anyway, possibly offering clues as to the measure's chances of success.


Farrell has studied the great philosophers Jagger and Richards. He knows that you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you get what you need.

In this case he'll drop the non-Mayoral citywide offices and the measure will pass, perhaps by more than 6-5. Even Campos and Kim have expressed willingness to talk about a Mayor only option.

And I'm sorry, but Steven Hill's talk about expense is downright embarrassing already. We're talking about 1 election every 4 years. Cost per year: $875K. To figure out who is in charge of a $7 billion budget. Someone needs to tell Hill to come up with a new ruse because that one isn't fooling anyone. Try something else.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 8:08 pm

A mayor-only option without RCV used in the first round would be a huge step backward. Not only would it lead to a much more vicious campaign among candidates who mostly share views, but it would be a real "crapshoot" as to who advanced. Consider a few examples from California's "top two" primary this year.

The 31st congressional district is one that Barack Obama will carry easily this fall and is majority-minority. But because of split votes among Democrats, only two white Republicans will advance, potentially costing Democrats the House and certainly costing the Hispanic caucus a seat. With RCV used to reduce the field, a Latino Democrat would have advanced and been favored in November.

Or take the 2nd congressional district where the race for second place is going to a candidate with 15%, with progressive Democrat Norman Solomon just behind by 0.3%. Solomon would have been a much stronger general election challenger and likely would have earned that spot with RCV used to reduce the field to two.

Or take the 8th congressional district with the combined vote for the top two was 30%, and fewer than 1,100 votes separated first from 4th -- a "crapshoot primary" indeed.

Best option is to keep improving RCV with reforms like David Campos was proposing. Second best option is to have a November vote with RCV where any candidate getting over 50% of first choices wins, but otherwise RCV is used to reduce the field for a runoff. Sure, big money will have too much influence in that runoff, but at least turnout will likely stay high, unlike for any other office.

Posted by Troll buster on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 4:10 am

You're posting as Troll buster so I assume that it is pointed at me.

99% of your post is opinion so I'm not sure what I am supposed to refute. It seems as if you are saying that RCV is more likely to elect a different type of candidate that you would favor.

No system is perfect, as the Pro RCV like to point out.

I'll save the references to our D10 Supervisor Race where 75% of the people who voted did not vote for Malia Cohen anywhere on their ballot. Or our Mayoral race where only 30% of the electorate had their votes counted in the final Lee-Avalos runoff tally.

And the RCV proposed solution? Find a voting machine where we can collect the voter's 5th, 6th and 7th choices and count THAT as their vote if necessary. Talk about arbitrary noise and a completely meaningess crapshoot.

Sorry, you can't bust anything. Your system sucks.

And the RCV

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 6:20 am

of over 50% put one of those two candidates as first pick.

Lee would have won by at least a 50% margin whether it had been RCV or runoff election.

RCV might make a difference in very close races, but not when one candiate wins by a landslide.

The figure for voters who didn't pick either Lee or Avalos for any of their 3 picks is far, far lower than you claim.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 6:57 am

Here is what I said:

"only 30% of the electorate had their votes counted in the final Lee-Avalos runoff tally."

The final tally was Lee 85.5K, Avalos 57.2K Total votes counted 141.7K which is 30.5% of the 464.4K electorate. Exactly what I said.

And here is what you said:

"Your 30% number for Lee-Avalos is way off"

Does it ever occur to the Pro RCV proponents that the reason that they have to make so much false stuff up is because their system is really awful in so many ways?

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 7:33 am

30% of the electorate is meaningless as that is the same whether under RCV or not. you're complaining about low turnout but that's a separate issue.

Clearly the vast majority of those who actually bothered to vote at all had either Lee or Avalos as a pick because they got 50% of the first chocie picks.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:30 am

The December run-offs that it replaced were typically 50%. Even the Supervisor races pulled in the upper 30% in the December run-offs.

It's not a separate issue. Watching an algorithm get run just doesn't excite people the way a head to head confrontation of ideas did.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:53 am

far more than 30% went for either Lee or Avalos. The true figure is between two and three times that number.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 11:25 am

You're making up numbers, Troll. Turnout in December runoffs dropped like a stone for every office. See real numbers here: http://www.sfbetterelections.com/rcv-vs-runoffs.html

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 12:06 pm

Actually, I don't make up the numbers. I get them from here:


It's actually sort of funny that you're telling me to go to a pro RCV site to get the 'real' numbers. No thanks, I'll use the numbers that the city publishes.

Actually it isn't funny. It's pathetic, but that is to be expected I guess.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

Lee would have beaten Avalos by 50% under any conceivable electoral system. The reason, quite simply, is that far more people support Lee than AValos. Duh.

You can't rig an alection when it's so one-sided, only at the margin when it's close.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 4:07 pm

I'm not Troll buster, but it's disingenuous for you to say 99% of that post is opinion. Those voting results are straight from the California Secretary of State's web site for this June's primary election.

As for the D10 race you mention, if Farrell's rules were used to tally it, it would have been even worse. The two winning candidates would have advanced with only 12% of the vote each. In other words, 76% wouldn't have voted to have either candidate in the runoff, let alone one of them.

In addition, Farrell proposes to have that election take place in September when voter turnout is perhaps half what it would be in November.

So the candidates for the runoff would be selected by even smaller percentages of the vote in even smaller turnout elections. That's what Troll buster means by crapshoot, and that's why RCV is being suggested for use in a primary if Farrell insists on having a primary.

Posted by Chris J. on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 7:08 am

Not sure what your definition of "opinion" is.

Talk about CD-31. Are you saying that's a legitimate outcome. Nearly 50% of voters backed Democratic candidates, but no Democrat is going to the runoff.

Talk about CD-2. More than 30% of voters backed candidates who finished 4th or lower. If they had known that their vote could make a difference in who made the runoff, they probably would wanted to do so. Turns out of those voters, only one in six voted for a Republican, and four times that number voted for a Democrat. So who do you think they would want in the runoff -- Democrat Solomon or the man who beat him by about 0.1%, Republican Roberts?

And here's a fact for you: More than 4% of Oakland voters lost their vote due to an overvote in the U.S. Senate race this month. That's about 12 times the rate that lost their vote in the allegedly confusing RCV race.

Posted by Trollbuster on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 12:11 pm

Sour Grapes.

Prof. Cook showed there were up to 8% of ballots that had an overvote in the recent RCV elections - mostly in minority precincts.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 2:58 pm

Sounds like sour grapes that your candidate did not win.

Bottom line, they did not solidify the electorate with their message and they lost. Don't try to change the system so you are happier with the results.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

Tony Hall would have been supervisor.
Janet Reilly would have been supervisor.
Debra Walker (Christina's close ally) would have had a run-off.

It's over. Kill it.

Posted by Proggy Boy on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 9:01 pm

... and I would have pitched a no-hitter against the Dodgers ...

... because Elsbernd and Farrell are really only motivated to get more progressives elected ...

Keep dreamin PB.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 9:31 pm

People who complain about RCV never seem to want to compare it to the alternatives. A June primary? Oh, that's a lovely idea, we can have a whole year of campaigning! How about a September primary where nobody turns out? Some December primaries end up having good turn-out when it's a sexy mayoral runoff (in which case you could still use RCV in the November election to get to the top two), but in other cases you have low turn-out again.

RCV allows people to vote once and make their choices known; that's by far the most important factor in a place (such as planet earth) where not everybody shows up for the primary election and LARGE percentages of people drop off for run-off elections.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 9:16 pm

>"Some December primaries end up having good turn-out when it's a sexy mayoral runoff (in which case you could still use RCV in the November election to get to the top two), but in other cases you have low turn-out again."

No. The truth is that there has been only one Mayoral race since 1975 when there was a large drop off in turnout for the December runoff (1987 Agnos-Molinari. turnout went from 50% to 40%). Other than that one instance the December turnout was equal to or higher than November for the Mayor's races.

This is different than the Supervisor's races. Obviously if you have a November election with an Obama or a Schwarzenegger on the ballot you won't get the same turnout in December for a city supervisor race.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 9:43 pm

You are substantiating the guest you are quoting and making a case for keeping RCV.

The fact that turnout sometimes went up in December is not a reason for having the runoff be a separate election. It just means that the people who were only going to vote once sometimes chose to vote in the runoff and that the runoff is when candidates and grassroots organizations invested more in voter turnout efforts.

It is much better to schedule everything in a single election and get everyone participating together for the entire decision.

Posted by Freewheeling on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 4:50 am

>"It just means that the people who were only going to vote once sometimes chose to vote in the runoff"

How do you guys know all this stuff??? It's like you are in the voter's head and know exactly what they are thinking!

So...let me see if I get this...when the November election comes up a significant % of the voters say 'Why should I vote twice, I'll just wait till December."

I really wish that you guys would publish the methodology that you use to discern this stuff.

Because otherwise it seems as if you are just saying whatever comes to mind and confusing it with the truth.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 11:04 am

All who would be screaming leftists outside the immediate Bay Area.

It's hard to classify any of these elected officials as a "conservative" ANYWHERE.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 9:54 pm

Steven Hill is a conservative.

Posted by Troll II.V on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 11:01 pm

All five are conservative on economic issues (opposed to new taxes, seeking to shrink government and subsidize private sector economic growth) which is mostly what politics in this city are about. And on this issue, they are supportive of electoral systems that empower downtown corporations and their independent expenditure campaigns (which most often target progressive politicians that are the biggest threat to corporate dominance over this city's affairs), so I think that I've sized up the political dynamics at play here in a way that best explains the situation to the average reader.

Posted by steven on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 10:46 am

Steven, IRV has been the voting system under which progressive power has waned and tea party libertarian economics have waxed.

My assertion that power my opposition to Prop A back in the day is that the lack of runoffs relieves progressives and community forces of opportunities to bury hatchets and organize to contest elections.

Absent that coalescence, the professionals in labor and nonprofits are unchecked, rarely ever in the same room with real San Francisco voters, neighborhood folks and concerned citizens, and are "free" to serve their narrow interests.

It is this dynamic, fueled in part by IRV, that has accelerated the progressive political cliff jumping.

Conservatives assert that IRV has progressive cooties and they oppose it for those reasons, ostensibly against their interests. We need to correct the mistake of Prop A and dispatch IRV to the dustbin of failed electoral experiments.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 11:15 am

How is failing to organize effectively the fault of RCV? You're more likely to win an RCV election if organizing at the grassroots level. In fact, if you look back at RCV elections, in case after case it was either the candidate who never was going to lose under any system or, in the competitive ones, the candidate who outhustled and out-organized other candidates.

Money doesn't buy RCV wins. It can buy runoff wins. And in this Citizens United era, that's a big deal.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

There is no reason to stop using RCV for any of the citywide offices. We certainly don't need to waste time and money on two elections to decide who we want for assesor, treasurer, or city attorney. No one is claiming that Gavin and Ed really were not voters' favorite choice. So why is this still on the table and why does anyone think we need to do something special for mayor?

Ok, as a new supe Olague made a mistake signing on as a co-sponsor. Let's give her a do-over, let her make amends, we let Farrell's amendment die, and then we all go do something that will actually make the city a better place to live.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 10:02 pm

>"So why is this still on the table and why does anyone think we need to do something special for mayor?"

In the past few months the Mayor has had to personally decide on the use of force against the occupy movement. He had to personally decide who the D5 supe would be. He decided to seek the Sheriff's removal. In no case did he have to answer to anyone.

That is why we need to do something special for the Mayor. Any other questions?

Just because we have been lucky so far doesn't mean that we should not be concerned about a Jean Quan or Malia Cohen outcome giving us a weak mayor.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 7:16 am

Anyone remember Ron Dellums?

It's a crock to personalize this by blaming the system for anyone who is disappointing after being elected. Instead, focus on the incentive the system created for winning. In Oakland, Quan ran a much more grassroots campaign, did far more debates, engaged with far more people, while Perata sat back and relied on his millions.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

She would not have won under a traditional system. And of course she's been a disaster.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

The Chronicle complained about 42.5% voter turnout in last November's mayoral race. This June the California Primary had 31% turnout in San Francisco. For a September primary, I wouldn't be surprised if turnout were to drop as low as 20-25%.

Under Farrell's vote-for-1 primary system, if a large field of candidates run for mayor, we could easily have the situation of the top two candidates advancing to November with 15% of the vote each -- in an election with turnout as low as 20% to boot. The two candidates to advance would be a complete crapshoot in a low-visibility, low-turnout election with a conservative-skewed electorate.

Take California's Congressional District 8 election this June, for example. California started using essentially the same top-two system that Farrell is proposing. Thirteen candidates ran, and the top two advancing to November got 15% of the vote each.

Other anomalies include two white Republicans advancing in Democrat-leaning, predominantly Latino Congressional District 31. The Latino in third place didn't advance because four Democrats split the vote. Ranked choice voting, on the other hand, prevents bizarre outcomes like this because voters can express more than one preference and avoid splitting their votes across multiple like-minded candidates.

Posted by Chris J. on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 10:40 pm

their districts, election financing and voter registration until we get the results we want.

Which is exactly what Republicans say too.

Posted by Troll II on Jun. 25, 2012 @ 11:08 pm

when city-wide voting didn't give them the supes theyw anted, they wanted district elections

When runoffs didn't give them the results they wanted, they wanted RCV

Now RCV isn't giving liberals the results they want.

Here's the secret - there aren't enough liberals in this city for the left to win, period. Which is why no matter what system we have, the left loses.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:33 am

San Francisco is the most populous jurisdiction in the USA that uses Instant Runoff Voting. IRV needs to not only remain in San Francisco, but to be expanded all over the nation so that it is eventually used in presidential elections. If Florida had used IRV in 2000, George W. Bush would never have become President. Shrinking IRV in San Francisco would discourage the feeble yet ongoing effort to bring IRV into use in state and federal elections.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 7:20 am

>"If Florida had used IRV in 2000, George W. Bush would never have become President."

Well, except that Al Gore would probably not have been in the election. In 1992 the 'spoiler' candidate was the conservative Ross Perot who got 19% of the vote. Clinton wound up beating George HW Bush by 5.5%.

You guys REALLY do not think things through. You find one instance where happenstance works in your favor and you run with it.

So you should really say "If Florida had used RCV in 2000, but not before, and the other 49 states did not use RCV in 2000 then Bush would not have won".

To say nothing about the fundamentals. The voters in Florida knew that Gore badly needed their votes but they elected not to give it to him. RCV proponents want to protect voters from themselves.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:07 am

That's not the way the Perot vote broke in 1992. At most he cost Bush a couple states.

Sure, RCV could help Republicans in some elections when they're the majority candidate over the Democrat. But not George Bush in 2000 and not his Dad in 1992.

Posted by Trollbuster on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

IRV was supposed to be a mechanism for partisan races to allow people to vote their hopes instead of their fears. It was put forth by Greens who labored under the misapprehension that the reason people were not voting Green was not because we ran wingnuts for impossibly high office, rather because voters feared spoiling.

IRV has no place in local, nonpartisan elections.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:20 am

Then if 1/11 of SF voters voted green (not likely, but not impossible if they we ever organized, which they are not) they'd get one supe.

So they should support getting rid of district elections and having PR.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:34 am

I think they did before I came on the scene when there was a choice between PR and district elections in the mid 1990s.

I'd support a hybrid as it makes sense to ensure both geographical representation and ideological representation.

A Board of Supervisors with 21 or so members,11 elected by district and 10 elected by PR with a budget equivalent to that of the Mayor's office would be appropriate.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:51 am

LA has seven, I think, and it's five times the size.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 11:24 am

Amongst amalgamated cities and counties, San Francisco comes in near the bottom of the pack when it comes to the number of constituents represented by a single local elected official.

If you want to live in LA, perhaps you'd want to pack up your belongings and head 450 miles to the south?

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 11:52 am

Yet somehow they manage.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 4:05 pm

There are 88 incorporated cities in Los Angeles County, each with a city council of probably more than 5 members. That means a minimum of 440 city council members.

Yeah, they manage better than we do.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 4:58 pm

and the "who knows?" how many cities for 50 miles in any direction.

Our problem here is fragmentation of population and jurisdiction. I'd support a "Bay Area Board of Supervisors" with local councils for smaller stuff. Most of what works well here is Bay Area wide, like BART, rather than city-narrow, like Muni.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 5:12 pm

And the 9 county Bay Area has 51 supervisors too.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 5:32 pm

The concept that you go to the poll to vote Green but before you leave you specify which viable candidate you really want your vote to go to is problematic, to say the least.

I guess it legally still qualifies as 1 person 1 vote but really, who needs it. It would be better if we put a separate line on the ballot to give everyone a symbolic vote in addition to their actual vote. At least in that case we wouldn't be mixing symbolic vs pragmatic and muddying up the waters to the point where you can't discern voter sentiment anymore

At least the Nader voters had the conviction to pull the lever in spite of electoral realities. Those votes meant something. Saying that I want Green but really count me for Avalos means absolutely nothing about your dedication to the Green Party.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 9:56 am

The problem is winner take all more so than IRV versus runoffs. The US has an antique democracy that is showing signs of age.

If anyone thinks that US and California democracy are functioning well other than to lock in the status quo, then they are both in the minority and not paying attention.

Most recent democracies have innovated new democratic techniques and are thriving. The US prides itself on being an innovative country, but apparently our democratic process is insulated from further innovation.

So get rid of winner take all, implement PR or some other type of voting that guarantees that everyone's voice is heard according to political support and there will be no need for IRV.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 10:17 am

And I'm not sure that the grant makers that fund the New America Foundation are themselves closer to downtown than any of us. Check out this gem by Steve Hill that gives cover to the Austerians in PIIGS:


This all borders on malpractice by a political scientist.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:27 am

Anyone else notice Stephen Hill's e-mail is Shill@......

Says it all.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 3:02 pm

it seems to me that if people want to change RCV we should take our time and vet it with various community groups and election experts rather than a rush to push something through at the last minute

Posted by Guest Judy B on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:32 am