At Tuesday’s election, Berkeley voters will have their first experience of ranked-choice voting (RCV), also known as instant runoff voting. RCV is being used in Berkeley’s City Council elections. In RCV (explained rather folksily in the video above), voters can rank their candidate preferences. If no candidate wins a majority (50% plus one), the candidate with the lowest number of first-choice votes is eliminated. Votes cast for that candidate will be redistributed to the voter’s next-ranked choice. The process continues until one candidate wins the majority.
Although the system promises an instant run-off, the RCV algorithm will be run starting on Friday if it’s needed. Provisional ballots, which typically account for 7% of the total, could stretch out the count even further.
San Francisco has used RCV for the last six years, and the system is generally considered a success. Today’s Chronicle, however, had an interesting look at the District 10 supervisor race with 21 candidates, and the uncertainty that surrounds it. No Berkeley district has more than four candidates, so the process should be considerably simpler.
There is certainly jockeying for apparent advantage under RCV. In District 7, where incumbent Kriss Worthington faces two challengers, George Beier and Ces Rosales, Mayor Tom Bates and others have endorsed both challengers in the hope that preferences will help unseat Worthington. In District 8, incumbent Gordon Wozniak also faces two challengers, Stewart Jones and Jacquelyn McCormick. Jones and McCormick have mutually endorsed each other and McCormick has distributed leaflets encouraging supporters to vote for her, with Jones second choice and third choice blank.
“They’re realizing it’s an instant run-off and they’re putting their cards on the table about what they think of the other candidates,” explained Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, and an advocate of RCV. Richie said that in a conventional vote, if there were no majority winner, a run-off election would need to be organized, and in most cases eliminated candidates endorse one of the remaining candidates.
According to Richie, most places that adopt RCV adjust to it and “voters tend to like it”. There have been, however, some cases where the system has been repealed.
“Whoever leads on election night might not win,” Richie said. “That will probably happen in at least one of the Alameda County races. Whoever wins will think it’s good. The people who lose will think it’s due to the system.”