‘Ranked-choice voting is a failed experiment,” according to Supervisor Mark Farrell. Today, Farrell and Supervisor Sean Elsbernd will propose a charter amendment to end ranked-choice voting in San Francisco. It will need a majority of votes from the Board of Supervisors to get on the ballot in June, but I can’t imagine any supervisor will be able to vote against it after the spectacle we are about to witness as we calculate the votes in this mayoral race.
It will only be rivaled by the dramatic scene across the Bay, where we are watching Oakland Mayor Jean Quan continue her “reign of error.”
I can’t shake the suspicion that her incompetence might have been discovered prior to the election if she had been subjected to a runoff instead of sliding into office due to a ranked-choice voting system. I am not advocating for Don Perata, but a runoff might have required her to sharpen her leadership skills, define her policies and be ready to take the helm as the chief executive of a major city. At the very least, had she won a runoff, she could claim a mandate from a majority of Oakland voters. As it stands, she’s the target of a recall effort.
The religious fervor exhibited by people who love ranked-choice voting is a bit bizarre. Are they selling the voting machines that count these funky ballots? They cite charts and arguments and polls like they are defending a senior thesis instead of acknowledging what any conversation with a local will tell you: People don’t like ranked-choice voting.
Some people don’t understand it. Some think it goes against the way we think elections ought to run — by majority vote. For some, it is because ranked-choice voting turns candidates into hand-holding chorus girls that no one can distinguish between, much less rank in order from one to three. Often it is a combination of these three factors. At any rate, the tone-deaf philosophers who think the public likes ranked-choice voting shouldn’t be afraid to put it to a vote next June.
Aversion to runoff elections is understandable: Runoffs sound small and expensive. But the turnout for mayoral election runoffs since 1960 has been within 10 percentage points of the initial voting turnout. In 2003, 1999 and 1991, runoff turnout was actually higher than the first vote. Furthermore, there’s nothing preventing The City from finding ways to defray the cost of a pricey singular December runoff by, for example, consolidating the election with the other ballot measures in June each year and holding a runoff, if one is necessary, on the regular Election Day in November.
According to Farrell, “Despite the original promises of ranked-choice voting, after what we have witnessed here and in Oakland, we need to have a gut-check in San Francisco.”
We should consider recalling the system of ranked-choice voting before we have to recall an elected official who escaped the scrutiny of a runoff election. Just ask Oakland.
In the 2011 CityBeat poll conducted by the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, when 500 locals were asked to list the “major issues facing San Francisco,” 32 percent of respondents said “homelessness and panhandling.”
“Jobs and the economy” were next on the list, with 26 percent viewing that as the major issue.
Earlier this year, the results of a 2010 survey of 6,100 tourists showed that fully 25 percent think “homelessness/panhandling” is what they “least liked about San Francisco.” The survey was commissioned by San Francisco Travel Association. The next closest contender was “weather — cold — windy,” with 10 percent.
It certainly seems like the candidates for mayor are treating homelessness like the weather — something that is part of The City that we must simply endure. The “plans” put forth by each of them may differ slightly, but at the core they are the same: more shelter, more housing, more treatment, more of the same.
After this election, when 15 candidates sit and think about what they did wrong, I hope they consider the total failure of imagination and public communication on the issue of homelessness in this election. Spotlighting an innovative plan could have really set one candidate apart.
After 18 years as the favorite North American tourist destination of Condé Nast Traveler magazine readers, last month San Francisco fell to No. 2. Now we trail Charleston, S.C. The reason for the drop? Almost one-third of survey respondents did not perceive San Francisco as “friendly.”
Some speculate that the unfriendly folks are the panhandlers themselves, but maybe we are all less friendly because we must be bundled up in layers of stoicism just to walk down the street.
And no one seems to care.