Election Results Reveal Need for Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) was a topic of discussion at Alameda’s 2022 candidate forums and in written questionnaires.  That’s because the voting method is needed in Alameda.  The recent election illustrates the value of RCV. 

Majority Rule

RCV ensures that candidates receive a majority of the votes cast in a single election in order to win.  Alameda’s current system allows that whoever gets the most votes wins, even if it is not a majority.  In a democracy, shouldn’t the majority rule?

In our last local election, neither city council winner reached the 33.34 percent majority needed when two seats are being contested.  (That’s the threshold in a two-seat race because it is mathematically impossible for a third candidate to also reach it.)  Tony Daysog got 27.95 percent of the votes, Tracy Jensen got 19.54 percent, and the other candidates split 52.51 percent.  Only one of the two winners in the school board race reached the majority threshold.

The top two vote-getters in each race may well have been the same if RCV had been used, and this is often the case.  But not always, as we saw in the recent Oakland mayoral race.  The important thing is that the winners are supported by a majority of the voters and thus have a clear mandate to govern. 

How RCV Works

RCV is simple.  Instead of voting for one candidate, voters can opt to rank candidates in order of preference.  If no candidate reaches the majority threshold, then an instant runoff takes place by using voters’ backup choices.  The candidate in last place is eliminated, and the next choice of those who chose the eliminated candidate is reallocated and tallied.  That process repeats until someone wins a majority. 

Winners and Losers

As with any electoral method, there are winners and losers, and sometimes losing candidates use RCV as a scapegoat for their loss.  For instance, there are post-election grumblings in Oakland.  Losing mayoral candidate Loren Taylor did not have a problem with RCV when it was used to elect him to city council in 2018.  But when he just lost in a close race for mayor, suddenly it’s the electoral method’s fault, not his.

To cast doubt on RCV after the election was over, Taylor claimed that “20,000 ballots” were not counted.  But to get to that figure he included thousands of voters who chose not to vote for any mayoral candidate and also included ballots that were filled out incorrectly.   This happens in every election, including non-RCV elections.

The campaign for Alameda County Board of Supervisors illustrates two other problems with non-RCV elections.  This contest lasted nearly a year because a separate runoff was required.  In addition to the added cost, voters were subjected to mudslinging negative mailers by the winning candidate, which does a disservice to civic discourse.

Meanwhile, nearby Albany used RCV for the first time this year.  It delivered the first Latino to ever get elected to city council there, and an Asian American Pacific Islander was elected for the second time.  “We had more and better candidates running, because no one was told not to run,” said Albany resident Jim Lindsay.  “Most importantly for Albany, our council is now dramatically more diverse than it has ever been in our history.”

Bringing RCV to Alameda

If proponents including the Alameda League of Women Voters get their way, the option to institute RCV in Alameda will appear on the ballot in 2024. The school board, on the other hand, can adopt the voting method on its own, without putting it on the ballot.

With RCV, instead of negative campaigning, candidates are motivated to expand their base of support by asking voters whose first choice is another candidate to consider them as their second choice.  RCV encourages candidates to run on their ideas, and voters get to voice their true preference.

Stay tuned as the local effort for RCV unfolds.

Originally published in Alameda Sun

***Read also: East Bay Times editorial page editor Dan Borenstein’s review of the November election outcomes in San Jose, Alameda Country, Martinez, Antioch, and Richmond. “Election lessons from San Jose and the East Bay, Ranked choice voting, council vacancy replacements and the importance of voting,” December 2, 2022

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