Time to admit failure of ranked-choice voting

Ranked-choice voting is rank. This exotic electoral experiment utterly failed to fulfill the most fundamental purpose of a democracy — majority rule. The effort to prevent costly runoffs produced the unintended consequence of disenfranchising tens of thousands of local voters — and discouraging even more from participating in the complex process. A very small number of San Franciscans ended up electing our municipal officials and deciding important measures in November’s election.

Whether you are liberal, progressive, moderate or conservative, you should be alarmed at the loss of majority rule. This is the most time-honored principle of Western civilization, going back to the Greeks and Romans, and is the rock upon which our own republic was founded when the rest of the world was ruled by monarchs.

Majority rule is also very practical. When a majority is for something, you may not like it, but the matter is settled and you move forward.

When a minority of people elects a leader, that leader is easily challenged, and the political system is kept in turmoil. It opens the door to recall elections and constant challenges at City Hall. Consider this:

  • When offered the choice of a vast field of mayoral candidates, merely 30.75 percent first cast their ranked-choice ballots for candidate Ed Lee, who eventually won after 12 complex rounds during which others’ votes were “assigned” to him by a computer model. (The Building Owners and Managers Association liked the outcome of the mayor’s race, but not the method.) The bottom line is that 59,663 registered voters indicated a first-choice preference for Lee, out of a total San Francisco population of slightly more than 805,000.
  • Ranked-choice voting was supposed to boost voter turnout, but only 197,242 of 464,380 registered voters cast ballots — an embarrassing 42 percent turnout by one of the most educated, engaged citizenries on the planet.
  • Only one-third of the voters filled out the three choices in the races for mayor, district attorney and sheriff, distorting results more.
  • Only one choice for each office was marked by a percent of voters.
  • Sixteen percent of the ballots for mayor (31,500 votes) were discarded when all of their chosen candidates were eliminated in the multiround balloting.
  • The San Francisco Examiner reports that throughout the country, numerous municipalities tried ranked-choice voting and dumped it as costly and too complicated.

Two San Francisco supervisors are readying legislation to end ranked-choice. We encourage this return  to electoral sanity. A return to majority rule is something a majority of us can surely agree on.

Marc Intermaggio is executive vice president of BOMA, San Francisco’s Building Owners and Managers Association.

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