Is ‘Ranked Choice Voting’ in the Future for California?

by on February 19, 2020 · 5 comments

in California, Election

By Doug Porter / Words&Deeds / Feb. 11, 2020

Congratulations, California. The legislative and executive branches of our state government have worked hard to make the process of voting easier in a world where 9 to 5 and Monday thru Friday jobs are disappearing faster than big name brick storefront retailers.

Republicans, generally speaking, hate this concept, as their roads to victory involve voter suppression. Whether it’s repeating the oft-debunked tales of voter fraud or scheduling a presidential visit on election eve in the hope of disrupting polling place access (yes, Trump just did this!), the GOP’s ideal democratic republic involves the entitled ruling the roost.

The Golden State and the voting districts within are facing a governance dilemma of a different sort, namely one party rule. Many of our elections in San Diego are little more than personal popularity contests, where a smiling face and the bucks to get it in front of people mean more than actual ability.

Take our mayoral contest, for instance. Given that legislative power is vested in the city council, just how would Todd Gloria at the top be substantially different than Barbara Bry? The answer does not lie in their promises to voters or appeals to certain constituencies.

Most people don’t realize what they’re voting for is actually an administration, namely the people brought in behind the scenes to make ideas into policy. That’s why the Chamber of Commerce endorsed Gloria (the liberal politician) over Bry (the La Jolla entrepreneur). And that’s why many (but not all) progressive activists are also backing Gloria.

The rest of us non-chamber types are left with choices that are uncomfortable. Yes, Scott Sherman and Tasha Williamson are clearly different, but the odds of them making it past November are slim and none.

So do we throw away our vote for mayor? Not vote? Write-in Alfred E Neuman?

This “problem” could easily be turned into an opportunity, one leading to better and more inclusive representation in local government. And if local electoral activists have their way, we could be electing the next round of city council representatives in 2022 using ranked choice voting.

About 20 cities, including Memphis, Minneapolis, New York, Santa Fe, Sarasota, and San Francisco are already using this method for some contests. Maine is now using ranked choice voting for state and federal offices, and the system has successfully made it through court challenges.

How it works.  Ranked-choice, also known as instant-runoff voting, allows voters to choose multiple candidates and rank them by order of preference. In New York City, primary and special-election voters will have the choice to rank up to five. The proposal making the round in San Diego calls for four choices.

The League of Women Voters of San Diego, the Independent Voters Project, Fairvote, and RepresentUS are seeking to place a measure on the November 2020 ballot making elections for Mayor, City Attorney, City Council and School Board to be decided by ranked choice.

If I could find a website for this effort I’d list it here. (Hint, hint) On to the nuts and bolts of the process…

Sample ballot for five ranked choices. San Diego supporters are saying four works better.

When it comes time to vote you cast your ballot for Candidate C, but you also like Candidate A and you could live with Candidate B. You’d rank Candidate C as your first choice, Candidate A as your second and Candidate B as your third.

You don’t have to rank all five – in fact, you can just choose one candidate. But the option is there for you to voice your support for multiple candidates.

So the polls close and a candidate wins a majority of first-choice votes, they’ve won. But… if no one has a majority of first-choice votes, after the first round, the person with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Those votes are redistributed to the second-choice candidate on the ballots.

The process can be repeated for each round – the person with the lowest number of votes gets eliminated and their votes get redistributed to other candidates that have been ranked on the ballot – until only two candidates are left. The person with the most votes then is the winner.

Think of it. Ranked choice voting could  streamline the election process, making it less expensive, more efficient, and more fair. Primaries and runoffs are costly.

Research on instant runoff shows an increased opportunity for diversity of political viewpoints as well as a diversity of candidate backgrounds and demographics. California jurisdictions using ranked choice have seen a dramatic increase in candidates and elected officials who are women or minorities.

Elections in cities like Minneapolis have seen a reduction in mud-slinging campaigns, since candidates are more likely to focus on getting voters to the polls as opposed to discouraging opposition ballots.

Here’s the deal, you know who hates real election reforms? The old line pros in political parties and the consultants who make bank slinging crap.

That’s why this concept in San Diego has only been publicly supported by the (more moderate) Republicans on the city council.

Like any idea, I’m sure there are holes that can be poked in this concept. And I’m also sure that criticism is no reason to stop trying to make things better, that is, unless you think Gloria vs Bry is the best San Diego can do.

(As I’ve said before, I’m of the opinion that Todd Gloria will win in November. He won’t have to try very hard to be a better mayor than Kevin Faulconer. Activists will have to hold his feet to the fire to get stuff done.)

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

triggerfinger February 19, 2020 at 2:59 pm

I love the concept.

It’s really the only way to truly gauge the people’s majority choice. The top 2 primary is a step in the right direction, but also flawed.

Right now we have a system that discourages people from voting for their preference for fear of “wasting a vote” and has them trying to pick winners instead.


micporte February 19, 2020 at 3:24 pm

nice article, as always, interesting concept, rank choice/voice voting, but,ummm
don’t understand what/that/ if the last choice candidate’s votes get automatically distributed to the second choice candidate? what if the last choice candidate is a royalist and the second choice candidate is a communist? would the royalist voters be happy with their votes so redistributed?

in a local planning board election, with multiple votes, where I lost by two votes, 5-3, with a multiple slate of (2), I realized, if I hadn’t also voted for the other candidate, (neighbor), I might have won…

so in the event, vote for one candidate, your favorite, make a ruddy trucking choice,
but, don’t split your vote, just my advice

ps, I think Bry vs Gloria (alphabetical order) for mayor of San Diego is an excellent choice, and fully embraced either candidate, and wish our whole region was bi-lingual , and the whales came back to breed in our San Diego Bay, if you have a pre-election wish, now’s the time to express it,


micporte February 19, 2020 at 3:46 pm

ps, like on the ballot, County central Committee, 78th, “vote for no more than six”, I voted for one,
one lemon makes a whole batch of lemonade


Gary Huber February 19, 2020 at 11:02 pm

I’m all for ranked-choice voting. If they had it for national primaries, then Trump would not have stood a chance (and I say that as a registered Republican). But it would be very difficult to implement on a national level with paper ballots or old-fashioned voting machines. Another similar, but simpler scheme is “approval voting”. You simply select or list which candidates you could live with, and the one with the most approvals wins.


Chad Peace February 20, 2020 at 7:43 am

Here is the website:


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