Ranked-Choice Voting Gets Mixed Reactions
November 2, 2004 4:44 PM
Election Day 2004 proved historic in San Francisco as the ranked-choice voting system became effective for the odd numbered districtsí Board of Supervisors races. Despite the confusion surrounding ranked-choice voting, registered voters went to the polls and tried to make sense of the little known system. Mixed reactions stemmed from the first time use of this new system.
Amanda Martinez, 21, who exit polled on Election Day, explained her understanding of ranked-choice voting.
ďRanked-choice voting is being enacted for the first time here in San Francisco since it was voted in 2001, and now itís starting. And weíre starting it with district elections, and soon it will be for citywide elections. And what it is, ranked-choice voting, is you get more than one choice. You get three choices. It also eliminates runoffs,Ē Martinez said.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to choose their top three candidates. If there is no majority winner in a race, ranked-choice voting becomes effective. The votes are dispersed to each candidateís total votes. By voting for a second and third favorite candidate, voters participate in electing the winner, even if their first choice is not a contender. The point of ranked-choice voting is to eliminate December runoff elections when there is no majority winner. It will be used for future mayoral races and other city elected positions.
Standing on the corner of Mission and 24th street campaigning for District 9 Supervisor candidate Miguel Bustos, Eric Areguello, sees ranked-choice voting as a negative change.
ďI think itís a bad idea. It confuses a lot of people. They didnít put out good materials to educate the public. And I think people donít really know whatís going on. Very little, very late. And even the explanations that were given in a lot of locations, it wasnít very clear, people were very confused,Ē he said.
Although the new system was explained in the sample ballot mailed to San Francisco citizens, as well as on the Sfgov.org Website, citywide publicity was scarce. Voters that wanted to understand the system had to seek the information out independently. Mica Shiner, 23, and her friend were informed of RCV through a public forum. They were invited to the forum, but did not see a lot of citywide effort to explain the system.
ďActually we went to a town hall sort of, and thatís how we found out about it. Our neighbors invited us to come with them. If I hadnít heard of it via PODERís thing, other than I read through the propositions and I noticed it in there, but I had already been familiarized with it, so I didnít really pay attention. Other than that I donít think Iíve really heard anything about it at all,Ē Shiner said.
Martinez, interested in the system because of discussions in her classes, was aware of the lack of information on the system.
ďI didnít see any publicity in the city at all. Only reason I knew about it was through political science classes and doing my own investigation. As far as publicity throughout the city, I didnít see posters. I didnít see pamphlets or information. And I only really heard about it through the news a day or two before the elections,Ē said Martinez.
Many voters went to the polls with minimal knowledge of the system. Josh Lippi, 21, a Music student at SFSU, vaguely knew of the ranked-choice voting system and was prompted to vote for three candidates based on his experience at his polling place.
ďI honestly only voted for three because there was a lot of controversy while I was doing the regular voting. I had noticed a lot of commotion about the rank-choice because people wanted to vote for one, and they would vote the same person all three times. And it wasnít accepting in the machine. So, I only voted for three, so I didnít have to deal with any commotion. I could just turn it in and leave. I guess officially you didnít have to vote for three you could vote for one. But, people working the polls, I donít know, it wasnít organized well,Ē Lippi said.
Some citizens were informed of the system and went into the polls prepared to use it. Colin Murray, a student at SFSU, knew of RCV prior to placing his votes.
ďIíve heard about it for a while, actually Iíd known about it. Itís just been a fact that they do it in Europe, and thatís a really good idea. Iíve known for a while, I guess probably through, I knew from my voter pamphlet for sure when I got that. And, I had heard about it on the radio also. I think it had an affect because a lot more people were able to run. More chance of a lesser known candidate winning,Ē Murray said.
The first use of the ranked-choice voting system has come and gone, leaving voters with mixed feelings on the efficiency of the new system.
ďI honestly donít have a lot of personal experience with the runoff system, because this was the first time I did vote. So I havenít had to experience voting in a runoff. But, I would imagine if itís going to avoid runoffs it would be easier,Ē Lippi said.
Campaigner Areguello understands the intention of ranked-choice voting, but he believes the system is unnecessary.
ďRank choice is supposed to benefit people who are running against an incumbent, thatís what they say, but as far as if thatís whatís going to happen we donít know. I just think they should leave it the old way. Itís much more clear, itís more fair for all the candidates, even the incumbent. I think they should just leave it the way it was, he said.
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