The city of Del Mar, California is in the process of revamping their City Hall, and is using ranked choice voting to make the best decision they can. The city wanted to ensure that they were aware of how the community would like this space to be used, so Del Mar contracted with Everyone Counts Inc. and conducted a poll between February 2nd and February 20th where registered voters were able to assess 3 proposed uses for the space and rank those choices in order of preference.
The three options consisted of A) Using the space solely for civic uses. B) Civic Facilities with Additional Parking and 11,000 Square Foot Expansion Area and C) Civic Facilities with Additional Parking & 20,000 Square Foot (SF) Expansion Area.
The results of the poll were displayed in two different ways. The first showed how many first, second, and third choice votes each option received. Option C was the winner, by having the most first choice votes. The second display of the results shows the use of a weighted system for each choice. First choices are assigned 3 points, second choices are assigned 2 points, and third choices are assigned 1 point. In this analysis Option B won, even though it has the fewest points in the first “round” of voting. For the City Council of Del Mar, as well as the voters, this poll does not give a clear result that shows which option most voters prefer.
Giving varying number of points to different options can give you interesting information, but it can also cause a lot of problems when used in important contested elections. With a point system, ranking a second choice can hurt the chances of your first choice winning. In fact, in this poll, 75% of voters would have their first choices lose, and probably many (if not most) of them would have contributed to their first choice losing by ranking a second choice. That’s why FairVote advocates for an “instant runoff” form of ranked choice voting and not the use of points.
While allowing voters to rank these options provides the city with more information than voters selecting only one option, tabulating the results using ranked choice voting provided a more clear understanding of what the community would like to see by requiring the winner to be one with substantial first-choice support. In a ranked choice voting election, if no option received a majority of the first choices the option with the fewest votes would be eliminated and the voters who selected that option as a first choice would have their vote added to the totals of their second choice. This process continues until one option has more than half of the votes. In this case, the “instant runoff” tally selected Option C.
In a ranked choice voting election, the winning option must have strong first choice support to be a viable candidate. While a lot of voters saw Option B as a solid second choice, less than 25% of voters chose Option B as a first choice. This means that 75% of voters would prefer another option for city hall. Ranked choice voting allows voters to indicate second and third choices, and expressing those choices never hurts their first choice’s chances of winning.
The City of Del Mar was smart to ask its voters to rank their choices. They got a more detailed understanding of the will of the people, and gave voters more power in expressing their preferences. For more information on ranked choice voting go to http://www.fairvote.org/reforms/instant-runoff-voting/.