Ranked choice voting is ‘complex’ but gets a ‘more sincere majority’

From left: Jason McDaniel and Anni Chung (Photo courtesy of EMS)

By Harvey I. Barkin

Ethnic Media Services Director Sandy Close said at a virtual San Francisco election primer last October 6, “This year, stakes in election couldn’t be higher for all of us to prove that we have a functioning democracy.”

She explained that with ballots already in the mail, some of the 21.2 million California voters are “fearful, confused and want to steer clear of politics thinking their votes won’t count anyway.”

Many Filipino-American families fit in this category with COVID-19 eliminating lives and jobs, mixed immigration status dividing family members, and faith weaponized by politics.

No longer is there just black and white. These days, most everybody seems to find their comfort zone in the gray area. When you find you must vote for the lesser evil then you can’t help but realize the other candidate in the opposite party is saying some things right.

For many Fil-Ams, that twilight zone lies somewhere between the borders of undocumented aliens and pro-life issues.

Which is why this election, the notion of the old one-round majority wins election should be dispelled.

In November, it’s ranked choice voting (RCV) for San Francisco.

Keynote speaker and San Francisco State University Associate Professor of Political Science Dr. Jason McDaniel describes RCV as an “alternative to plurality election.”

He explained, “It changes the ballot by allowing voters to have multiple choices than just one.” You rank by number your preference of candidates.

RCV is put to use when elected candidates get less than 50 percent votes – a situation FilAms are used to especially with their perennial low voter turn-out. With RCV, if no candidate gets more than 50 percent votes, the last candidate tallied is eliminated. The eliminated candidates’ votes are re-allocated to the candidates still on the list. The votes are re-allocated to the remaining candidates on voters’ indicated rankings on ballots. This process is repeated until a candidate finally emerges with the majority votes.

McDaniel said some see RCV as a way “not to waste votes” and reflects a “more sincere way” of voting for the majority. He also said it saves money because “it eliminates 2-round primaries or run-off elections.”

He cited the San Francisco 2003 close contest among then Supervisor Gavin Newsom, Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzales, and former Supervisor Angela Alioto. Newsom took the lead with less than a percent over Gonzales.

RCV works well when there are two candidates in the same party that you want to vote. According to FairVote, because candidates can appeal even to their opponents’ supporters for second-, third-place votes, it should reduce mud-slinging and character assassination on the campaign trail.

McDaniel said RCV has no effect on racially polarized voting.

Other studies suggest RCV also helps under-represented and women candidates.

McDaniel warned of low voter turn-outs because of the perceived “complexity” of determining the majority winner with RCV. He also mentioned a higher probability of ballot errors.

But he also said that these problems are not insurmountable with a campaign aimed at voters to de-mystify RCV and better information on candidates.

He estimated that the turn-out in San Francisco is 20 to 25 percent of registered voters. He also noticed that a number of voters don’t have strong party preferences. “There’s a disproportionately white and older” voters and “younger voters are the least likely to vote, specifically in mayoral elections.” He also said “African-Americans and Asians are least likely to vote as they grow older and Latinos are under-reported.”

McDaniel called Filipino-American voters “a sleeping giant” that still needs to be mobilized. He added that more Filipino-American candidates are needed to realize the full potential of the Filipino-American vote.

Since RCV allows a latitude of choices, Self-help for the Elderly President and CEO Anni Chung spoke about language and accessibility, especially for the Chinese and seniors. Her parting shot was, “Don’t not vote. If you must, skip a question you can’t answer. But vote!”