Monday, November 28, 2011

Wacky "improvement" proposed to ranked choice voting:
how to make a bad system worse

There is nothing to celebrate in how ranked choice voting worked in San Francisco's mayoral election this year. I continue to believe this scheme is anti-democratic, undermining informed participation and commitment to the civic process. Progressive enthusiasm for it comes out of our least attractive delusion: we wish we could make politics harmonious, all sweetness and light. But since politics is about how we adjudicate the nasty clashes of interests that pervade any society, our gimmicks never deliver that utopian dream. There are real contests between opposing interests and in a working democracy these are clarified and decided by elections. Ranked choice voting is a "good government reform" meant to encourage us to pretend otherwise.

Now a couple of (right-leaning) Supervisors are threatening to try to upset this apple cart by repealing ranked choice; I wish them well.

Meanwhile, ranked choice voting enthusiasts are rallying to make things worse. From Beyond Chron:

… RCV must be expanded – especially in elections with multiple viable candidates – to include more than three choices. Portland, Maine just had their first mayoral election with Ranked Choice Voting – where voters got to “rank” all fifteen candidates. If San Francisco had such a system this year, we would not have seen 16% of all ballots “exhausted” [cast for three candidates who didn't make the top two] – because voters could have likewise ranked all the candidates.

This is nuts. He's generously advocating to give voters an opportunity to vote for 10 or so candidates they don't want to elect and that is somehow an improvement? It you want to make elections even less appealing and more of a laughing stock, expand this silly system.

Elections are about figuring out what candidates stand for, deciding who is closest to in-sync with what you want in government, often having to make lesser evil choices to pick someone to support, and electing that person. They are not about Rube Goldberg schemes to game complicated ballots -- they are fights over policies and perceived fit for a particular office.

San Francisco's ranked choice voting apparently discourages voting: this author neglects to mention that our recent 12 mayoral candidate race merely got 42 percent of us out to vote. The large number of implausible candidates conveyed an impression to the casual observer that little could be at stake; who could take such a process seriously? So many voters didn't bother. A runoff boils the field down to candidates who must take a stand on the chronic San Francisco issue -- is the city to be playground for the financial barons of the one percent or a livable environment for its citizens and families? In a run off, issues get clarified and fought out. In our current Mickey Mouse system, it is impossible to discern the issues and contrasts amid the noise and foolishness.

We've given ourselves a flashy "modern" anti-democratic process that only a math nerd could love; we've deprived ourselves of our most valuable arena in which citizens have an opportunity to decide the city's direction. Instant run-off voting gives voters a false sense that somehow they are not forced to make a hard choice about who gets to be in power; they can just play this cute little popularity (and name recognition) game and that passes for citizenship. Expanding RCV should stay in kindergarden where we are socialized to make nice; politics ain't bean bag. Elections should present hard choices and people need to be encouraged to know that, not have it hidden in a silly muddle.

1 comment:

David Cary said...

Ranked choice voting worked just fine in San Francicso. Opponents promised us the mayor's race would be a train wreck, but the train wreck never happened. The facts don't support them so they resort to anonymous name calling as in this blog.

Repealing RCV is a 1% solution for the 1%. There is no evidence that RCV was a significant reason for the slightly lower turnout this year. The 1% fear that RCV will be improved and further empower voters.

If you want better debates, fix the debate system, don't repeal RCV. Run formats that challenge candidates and have some debates with just the leading candidates.

The consensus among mayoral candidates was that they supported RCV and thought it was a good idea. The few that opposed it underperformed with voters.

Those who say voters should be limited to just two clear choices are really pushing for the polarizing, dysfunctional politics of Sacramento and Washington, D.C. That's not what San Francisco needs in these challenging times.

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