Ranked Choice Voting, a system worth fighting for

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) or “Instant Run-Off Voting” as it’s sometimes called, is currently under fire in San Francisco.  Two charter amendments are currently working their way through the Rules Committee of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.  Recently I testified along with our Voting Rights Fellow before the Rules Committee in support of RCV.

Here is an excerpt from the Beyond Chron article that summarized my talking points:

“A representative from the Asian Law Caucus weighed in later, explaining that electoral systems need more time than ranked-choice voting has received, to have a complete evaluation of its effectiveness. He also argued that changing up the way elections are held is confusing and discouraging to voters, and to the organizations, activists, and community elements trying to drive up voter participation.”

-Beyond Chron, “San Franciscans Advocate For Ranked Choice Voting Before Rules Committee ” by Jonathan Nathan‚ Jan. 27‚ 2012

Glad that they got my talking points loud and clear.  But I figured I’d also post our subsequent letter that lays out our analysis, just so our stance on this issue is crystal clear.

Here is the letter in support of RCV that we submitted to the Board Of Supervisors shortly after the hearing:

RCV Support Letter (PDF)

Text of Letter: 
February 2, 2012
Re: Proposed Charter Amendments Regarding Rank Choice Voting
Dear Board of Supervisors:
The Asian Law Caucus (ALC) supports a voting system that encourages the full
participation of as many people as possible. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in San Francisco has
remedied some of the critical deficiencies of majority voting, namely the need for run-off
elections. In the years prior to RCV, key positions were determined through run-off elections
where voter turnout declined by more than a third. The need for run-off elections ultimately
limits access to the vote for low-income voters, who are more likely to either hold multiple jobs
or work in certain industries that make it more difficult to take time off of work. RCV better
maximizes voter participation to elect individuals who are more representative of the city.

Moreover, RCV has only been in effect in San Francisco since 2004. Drastic changes to
any electoral system can have a detrimental impact on voters, such as confusing voters or
discouraging their full participation, as well as the full participation of community organizations,
activists, and leaders involved in voter outreach and engagement. Any voting system must be
allowed the adequate opportunity to demonstrate its effectiveness.
Lastly, ALC supports the current efforts to reduce the number of municipal elections by
consolidating odd year elections into a single year. Non-profit organizations like ALC expend
limited resources and time during every election to increase access, encourage voter engagement,
and ensure that elections are implemented in a fair and accessible manner. For example, since
2000, ALC has regularly conducted poll monitoring in San Francisco to observe election
proceedings. By consolidating elections and reducing the need for redundant election years,
community organizations and members will be better equipped and resourced to ensure that
voter engagement efforts have the greatest beneficial effect on San Francisco’s democracy.
ALC believes that RCV in San Francisco has better engaged voters in the political
process. ALC also encourages and supports the ongoing efforts by those like Supervisors Avalos
and Campos to improve RCV and increase voter education and outreach, particularly for Limited
English Proficient and people of color communities, whose access to the vote are among the
most vulnerable.
Carlo De La Cruz
Voting Rights Coordinator, Asian Law Caucus
Carolyn Hsu
Voting Rights Fellow, Asian Law Caucus