Evaluating the 2016 Ranked Choice Voting Elections in the Bay Area

Posted by Theodore Landsman on November 11, 2016

Early results from ranked choice voting (RCV) elections in the Bay Area show that RCV has performed well in key measures. Presidential turnout of course meant that decisive elections took place when a majority eligible voters were at the polls, and voters once again were able to made effective use of ranked choice ballots.

A few facts:
    • Of the 25 races that were held using RCV this Tuesday, in 24 the first round leader emerged victorious.

    • In the 12 races with more than two candidates, eight had no majority winner in the first round of counting. In seven of these elections, RCV allowed plurality winners to build coalitions, and demonstrate that a strong majority of voters supported their candidacies even if they had other first choices. As one example, Berkeley’s Jesse Arreguin translated a 49% plurality in the first round into a 60% majority* in the final instant runoff against a better-financed opponent, becoming Berkeley’s first Latino mayor; in all but one round, he increased his initial margin over his strongest opponent, showing his ability to connect with voters.

infogram_0_15cacb8f-1cc6-455d-a5d8-1f44e47cc485Plurality to Majority Bay Area RCV//e.infogr.am/js/embed.js?Wrktext/javascript

  • There was one Berkeley election where the outcome differed from what we would expect for a single winner plurality race. In the three candidate City Council race in the 2nd district, Cheryl Davila won a close come-from-behind victory because she was the second choice of 59% of supporters of the eliminated candidate, Nancy Armstrong-Temple, defeating incumbent Daryl Moore. While the results are still being tabulated, and the race winner could still change, this kind of result is a reflection of voters being able to have more than two choices and feeling free to vote their conscience without forfeiting a say in the final outcome of the election.

  • One opportunity for further reform is allowing Bay Area voters to rank more than three candidates. While this is neither urgent nor possible until Alameda County and San Francisco obtain new voting machines, our research shows that some voters did rank three candidates who did not make the final round of counting -- and some of these would likely have continued to rank if given the option, and would have had more impact on the outcome of the election. However, we see no evidence that counting these votes would have changed the outcome of these election.

    * Media reports show Arreguin winning with 50% because Alameda County did not report the final instant runoff

 

Image credit: Michael Hirsch 

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