Are You Kidding Me? RCV/IRV/WTF Won’t Make Things Nicer. It Hasn’t So Far.

It never ceases to amaze me how blatant political spin can be passed off as “information,” if you just make sure to quote spinners on all sides. That doesn’t make what they’re saying any more true – it just makes it seem that way.
Today, the Chronicle had yet another Ranked Choice Voting/Instant Runoff Voting* post-mortem, this time once again repeating the mantra of “RCV Will Make Candidates Nice and Coalition Blah Blah BLAH” all over again. In particular we hear how this is somehow making campaigns play nicer, and encourage “coalition building” amongst candidates, whatever THAT means.
Now, we’ve had this magical system for 6 years in San Francisco. Looking back at all the contested supervisorial races, could anyone argue that they got less hit mail from candidates and independent expenditures in the last six years? No. How about candidates doing the “buddy buddy system” to get elected? Well the only time we had that was in 2004 in District 5, and every single candidate that tried the buddy system got their asses kicked pretty seriously by the top two vote getters. The gimmicky joint mailers and so on didn’t work.
Did we get more “liberals” elected in San Francisco? Did we have any sure losers somehow magically make their way to the top? Not really – most citywide elections since RCV have been uncontested, or in the case of Newsom’s re-election, it was Newsom up against a pack of no-names that weren’t serious about winning.
Turnout hasn’t changed because of RCV either – it’s driven primarily by what kind of elections are on the ballot. People turned out in higher numbers in 2008 to vote in the presidential election – not to vote for City Supervisor. Get Real.
The one thing that has changed is that at least at a district level, candidates should have a strategy to ID their supporters and get them to the polls, but they also need to look at the ones not ID’d as supporters and somehow convince them to mark them in the #2 spot when they vote. This is not an easy thing to explain to people, and there’s no way to really track it either, but it’s a nice safety net. Other than that, campaigns will have to fight a lot harder, a lot faster, because there is no more runoff to shake out the detritus – it’s all or nothing on Election Day.
Whereas in the past, a runoff meant that the final two would have to formally ask for support from losing candidates, be held responsible for whatever stunts they pulled in the general election, and would have a one-on-one debate with their opponent (vs. the cast of 1000s we got in some districts), giving the public a chance to get a better look. True, turnout in a December election wasn’t great, but they could have just as easily had the election just a few weeks later.
By the way, that old saw about “saving money” is pure bullshit, because the people who push this kind of thing also push for huge increases in government spending in other areas. Also, I don’t like the idea of “democracy on the cheap” – we don’t skimp when we’re doing elections in Iraq – why should we here?
I’ll be writing more as I interview more people and try and come up with something that’s a bit more than just refuting the ping pong reporting that is considered “analysis” in San Francisco.

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