By Cynthia Richie Terrell on June 15, 2018
I’m past patiently waitin' I’m passionatelymashin’ every expectation
Every action’s an act of creation
I’m laughin' in the face of casualties and sorrow
For the first time, I’m thinkin’ past tomorrow
With fewer than 7,000 ballots left to process, it is now clear that London Breed has been elected in a ranked choice voting (RCV) race as the next mayor of San Francisco by a vote margin of less than 1%. Mayor-elect Breed becomes the only directly-elected woman mayor in our 15 largest cities across the country, and of course the only one of those cities to have RCV, as well as the first African American woman mayor of San Francisco. Congratulations to Mayor-Elect Breed!
Despite the fact that RCV is working, there are powerful forces who have called for its repeal. Here’s an overview of why RCV has worked in SF:
Huge turnout: Voter turnout will end up around 52%, giving San Francisco its highest turnout for mayor in 15 years, much higher than statewide turnout in California.
Greater usage of RCV: The mayor’s race is driving turnout. San Francisco voters cast more RCV ballots for mayor than non-RCV ballots for governor and U.S. senator. 86% of voters used at least two of their rankings and 70% used all three of their rankings in the mayor’s race.
Low error rate for RCV ballots: There are higher rates of voter errors in the governor and US Senate races in San Francisco. The city’s voters were six times more likely to invalidate their ballot voting for governor than when voting for mayor.
More representative of electorate: The percentage of voters having their ballot count in every round is higher than ever, with nearly nine-in-ten voters counting in every round from first to the last. In traditional runoff elections previously used in San Francisco, turnout declined on average by more than 30%.
Winner has a mandate from voters: Both London Breed and her main challenger Mark Leno were ranked first, second, or third by more than 60% of the voters.
Time to determine winner not connected to ranked choice voting: Election results are determined by the closeness of the race and the number of vote by mail (VBM) ballots. In another RCV race that was on the ballot, the winner was known on election night because it wasn’t close. But the mayor’s race was extremely close, and there was a tremendous surge in VBM ballots dropped off on election day, all of which needed to be inspected and verified. Running the ranked choice voting tally actually only takes a few minutes, which is why ranked choice voting results could be posted on election night and each subsequent day as more VBM ballots were processed.
With 90 percent of precincts reported by Wednesday afternoon, Yes on 1 held a 54-46 advantage – a greater margin than when ranked-choice voting was first approved by referendum in 2016, albeit with a lower turnout.
“There is so much about our political system in Maine and in America that seems broken and I have to believe that history is going to remember yesterday as a turning point,” Yes on 1 campaign chair Dick Woodbury, a former independent state senator, said Wednesday. “Just about everything that is wrong is nudged in a better direction by this reform.”
Supporters, now buoyed by strong public support, hope to pressure lawmakers to pass a constitutional amendment that would mandate ranked choice for all state offices in the general election and also assist other states that might want to give process a try. Without an amendment, ranked choice would continue to be used only in statewide primaries for state and federal office, and for federal office in the general election.
Voters in Maine did get to test the system for the first time Tuesday, in the Republican and Democratic gubernatorial primaries, in the Democratic 2nd Congressional District primary and in a Republican state house primary. Some election clerks reported confusion, but there did not appear to be any major problems putting it into use.
“Ranked-choice voting changes the way we elect politicians to put more power in the hands of voters and restore majority rule,” said Kyle Bailey, the Yes on 1 campaign manager. “This race to the bottom and to the extremes is over. Today we’re writing a new chapter where candidates are encouraged to reach beyond their base … to build coalitions.”
At the Kennedy Center with daughter Anna