RCV repeal effort gets tricky with three alternatives

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Opponents say RCV is complicated, but so are the current efforts to repeal it.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to vote on July 10 whether to place a controversial charter amendment on November’s ballot that would largely repeal San Francisco's ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, but the outcome of that effort has become murky with the introduction of two competing alternatives.

The original charter amendment, sponsored by Sup. Mark Farrell, would eliminate RCV for all citywide elected officials, instead holding a primary in September and runoff in November. The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell to repeal RCV, but Farrell came back with a modified measure that was co-sponsored by Sup. Christina Olague, much to the dismay of her progressive supporters, particularly Steven Hill, the father of RCV in San Francisco.

Hill said runoff elections in September, a month notorious for having low-voter turnout, will invariably favor the conservatives who always vote in high numbers. He said that RCV is a fairer representation of what voters want and a November election allows for more voters to be heard.

After widespread criticism from her progressive constituents, Olague publicly turned away from the measure, telling Hill and board members she would remove her name from it. Yet instead of removing her name, in a surprise move she proposed her own amendment to the charter, which only angered progressives more.

“Progressives are pretty furious with Christina right now because she is working with conservatives and went back on her word,” Hill said.

Olague’s proposal would eliminate RCV for only mayoral elections, with the primary still in September, even though she previously told the Guardian that she opposes having an election in September. Olague didn’t respond to email inquiries from the Guardian, but she has maintained in previous interviews that she is only trying to create a compromise between opposing parties on the board.

It's unclear whether Farrell and the other center-right sponsors of his measure might back Olague's alternative, but her colleagues who support RCV have put forward an alternative of their own. Board President David Chiu introduced another proposal amending Farrell’s measure that keeps RCV intact—more or less.

Although Chiu told the Guardian he thought the current RCV method has worked well for the city so far and that most people seem to understand how to use the system, he offered the amendment to address certain issues which have arisen because of Farrell’s measure and Olague’s amendment.

“My amendment addresses the concerns that have been raised in an appropriately tailored way,” Chiu told us.

Chiu’s proposal incorporates run-off elections for the top mayor candidates, but only after rank choice voting has narrowed the field to two candidates. It supports elections in November with the mayoral runoff in December.

However, this still allows for a second election, which RCV advocates think is a costly and unnecessary alternative that RCV was designed to eliminate – an imperative they see as more important than ever given court rulings that now allow unlimited spending by wealthy individuals and corporations to influence elections.

Although Hill isn’t happy with any repeal of the current voting methods, he said he reluctantly supports Chiu’s amendment.

“These are poorly made proposals,” Hill said. “It’s like being at the factory and watching sausage getting made.”

Hill fears that if Olague’s co-sponsorship of Farrell’s charter amendment or her own proposed amendment are approved by the board and allowed on the ballot in November that conservative money and power would most likely influence the election enough to pass the RCV repeal.