On Friday, the PublicCEO Staff received the following email explaining the advantages and processes of Ranked Choice Voting, like is being used in San Francisco. We are publishing it today for the consumption and information of our readers.

Dear Bay Area Friends of FairVote,

If you’re a San Francisco voter or know someone is, this message is for you.

Ranked choice voting (RCV), or instant runoff voting, will be used for the first time in the City’s history for an open seat race for mayor. It’s also being used for two additional citywide elections. Every race is hotly contested and quite likely to be determined in an RCV tally — see a DemoChoice’s special page on the elections.

Due to RCV, there won’t be special interest money pouring into a polarizing runoff, as increasingly took place in San Francisco before RCV – so-called “independent” expenditures quadrupled in those final runoffs according to the San Francisco Ethics Commission.

Notable RCV Fact: In 2005, San Francisco held it first-ever citywide RCV elections, with Phil Ting elected as assessor in the instant runoff. In 2010, Oakland held its first-ever citywide elections with RCV, with Jean Quan elected as mayor, winning more votes than any Oakland mayoral candidate in a generation. Out of every 1,000 voters in these elections, 997 cast a ballot that counted for their first choice.

The San Francisco election’s use of RCV is drawing a lot of attention. This week, it was covered by The Economist magazine and the Wall Street Journal. ABC’s Channel 7 did a good television spot. The Bay Citizen issued a new mayoral election poll with a snazzy “RCV simulator” that allows you to understand the poll results, round by round.

Elsewhere, next week, Ireland will elect a new president with RCV. There are seven candidates, with no one polling more than 40%, but no one is calling anyone else a “spoiler.” In Portland (ME), 15 candidates are running for an open seat for mayor. With RCV, there again are no “spoilers” in sight – just candidates trying to earn support. It’s the same in highly competitive RCV elections going on right now in cities like St. Paul (MN), Takoma Park (MD) and Telluride (CO).

Keep all this in mind, if (as seems likely) next year we have a strong third party challenge for president. We don’t have to keep rules that don’t work and “spoil” elections.

Notable RCV Fact: Jean Quan won more votes in her mayoral election than other Oakland candidate for mayor in a generation. Of the 15 RCV elections in San Francisco decided in an instant runoff, the winner in every case earned more votes than the leader in the first count.Only once was the final round participation less than 74% of the first round. But in nine of the city’s 14 runoffs in 2000-2003 before RCV was implemented, the winner had fewer votes in the runoff elections than the first round leader. Participation fell to less than 65% of the first round in ten of those 14 runoffs.

In the spirit of ranking three candidates in the RCV races, I wanted to highlight three opportunities.

1) If you’re a voter in San Francisco (and you can vote early right now), please let me know how it goes – what it’s like for you, what you hear others saying and what RCV seems to have meant for elections in your city. We also want to hear from you if any candidates, election officials, journalists and civic groups seem to have incomplete information.

2. Please consider sharing this email with anyone who might have questions about RCV and what it has meant for San Francisco. Make sure they know that they can rank three candidates in each of the three citywide races without any worry that a lower choice will have any effect on their top choice. (For more details, see our soon-to-be-updated A-B-C’s of RCV page from last year’s elections in Alameda County — with the main update being that San Francisco will release tallies at 4 pm on Wednesday, one day after the election.).

3. Please consider working with Bay Area reformers who work for ranked choice voting and fair voting as an alternative to winner-take-all electionsCalifornians for Electoral Reform is a great place to start — it’s a great time to be talking about changing our rules to allow voter choice and fair representation. 

Thanks you, have a good weekend and happy voting,

Rob Richie
FairVote Executive Director