It works, it’s cost-effective, it makes for more representative government and voters like it. But Assembly Bill 2808 seeks to end a method for casting ballots that voters themselves have chosen.
By Jesse Arreguin
Jesse Arreguin is the mayor of Berkeley
By Libby Schaaf, Special to CalMatters
Libby Schaaf is the mayor of Oakland.
California, the biggest and most diverse state, is teeming with opportunity but also is facing incredible challenges, ranging from drought to homelessness. To effectively address these problems, we need more representative government at the city, county and state levels.
Here in Berkeley and Oakland, one way we’ve made that happen since 2010 is through ranked choice voting. Using this method rather than traditional voting gives us an easy-to-use system that saves money and improves voter turnout while leading to the election of more women and people of color.
Assembly Bill 2808, which describes ranked voting as too complicated, threatens those gains. Berkeley and Oakland, along with several other cities that use ranked voting, would be prohibited from using the election model we voted for, and all Californians would be deprived of fairer representation.
When given the choice, about 70% of voters in both our cities supported ranked voting. We both have been elected through ranked voting. We were Berkeley’s first Latino mayor and Oakland’s second female mayor (Oakland’s first female mayor was elected in its first citywide ranked voting election, too).
Ranked voting works like this: Voters rank their choices — first choice, second choice, third choice, and so on — for a given elected office. If a candidate receives a majority of the vote, they win outright — just as in traditional elections. But if no candidate wins a majority, a new round of counting takes place. If your candidate is eliminated, your ballot is counted toward your second choice. The process continues until a candidate gains majority support, and thus wins.
There are many reasons to like ranked voting:
More women and people of color are elected: Women make up 51% of city council members elected in the last 33 ranked voting elections, similar to their overall population. That’s a much better record than among the 100 largest elected city councils, which average only 41% women elected. In the most recent election, voters in Berkeley, San Leandro, San Francisco and Oakland exclusively elected women and people of color as mayor. And a 2019 analysis of Bay Area cities found that candidates of color won 62% of elections since the adoption of ranked voting, compared with only 38% prior to its introduction.
It saves money and more people’s voices are heard: Ranked voting also eliminates the need for and cost of runoff elections, because voters only cast their ballots once. In San Francisco, the cost of the last city runoff in 2001 was $3 million, suggesting the city has saved millions each election cycle. Holding just one election instead of two reduces the burden on voters, and ultimately leads to far more voters — and a far more representative group of voters — participating in choosing their local government.
Californians like it: Polls show California voters understand ranked voting better than the “top-two” primary system, and a majority in each city polled backed ranking voting. More cities are set to begin using it this year, including Albany and Eureka.
It would be outrageous to take this fast-growing, nonpartisan electoral reform away — as AB 2808 would do. It would punish communities that have chosen to reform their electoral system and engage more voters in the process. It would take us further away from a true democracy.