Ranked choice voting has become the norm, rather than a novelty, in California’s Bay Area city elections. Voters overwhelmingly understand and embrace ranked ballots while candidates who embraced RCV campaign strategies were rewarded with decisive victories.
Tuesday’s elections build upon the success story of ranked choice voting in the Bay Area, which has increased voter turnout, eliminated costly runoff elections, improved civility and given wins to more women and people of color since it was implemented (since 2004 for San Francisco and 2010 for Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro).
That pattern continued in 2018, evidenced by FairVote California’s analysis of early election results.
Ballots were highly accurate - a negligible number were invalidated for ballot errors. In fact, San Francisco voters were twice as likely to make a mistake when voting for the Superintendent of Public Instruction (a single choice) than in the five Board of Supervisors races which used RCV.
Voters also took full advantage of the ability to make multiple choices in their district supervisor elections: roughly 75 percent of voters selected two or three candidates.
And once again, the empowerment of choice served as an incentive to participate, with higher turnout in the RCV ballots for city elections than several statewide and city non-RCV races.
While final results in all four cities are forthcoming, there are many likely victors who represent a range of viewpoints and demographic groups. What they share in common (besides simply winning) is a proven understanding of how run a successful campaign in a ranked choice voting election.
Take Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, who won re-election by a decisive margin despite what some anticipated to be a close contest. Schaaf has repeatedly expressed support for RCV, professing herself a fan in an article published Friday in Hoodline.
As she told the Hoodline reporter, "As a candidate, you have to talk to everybody, even people who you know you’re not their first choice. But you can still be their second choice or third. It changes the way you run campaigns.”
Her broad outreach was successful enough that second and third choices appear unnecessary to clinch a second term.
Across the bay, the District 6 supervisor seat in San Francisco looks bound for an outcome under first choices alone, as well, with Matt Haney receiving more than double the votes than runner-up Christine Johnson. While all three candidates embraced RCV strategies in their campaigns - Johnson and Trauss teamed up and endorsed one another - Haney strategically (and successfully) appealed beyond his progressive base to earn broad support and endorsements across his district.
Meanwhile, Berkeley’s student-majority district will finally get its long-awaited student voice on the city council, with recent UC Berkeley graduate Rigel Robinson well ahead of his two competitors in the District 7 race.
Other close contests required multiple elimination rounds, but again with the protection that candidates must clear the 50 percent threshold to win.
As many ballots in all four cities have yet to be counted - results are delayed across the state and unrelated to ranked choice voting - early numbers continue to tell a tale of victory for ranked choice voting in the Bay Area.
Illustration by Mikhaila Markham