In summary

With dozens of candidates likely to run in any gubernatorial recall election, electing the consensus candidate is a valuable reform for these contentious times.

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By Dan Howle, Special to CalMatters

Dan Howle is chairman of the Independent Voter Project and author of California’s “top-two” nonpartisan primary election system.

In the coming days, the Legislature will take up Assembly Bill 2161, which would reform the way we vote for candidates in a gubernatorial recall election. Nearly every reader will acknowledge that the sheer number of candidates seeking to fill the vacancy created by recalling a governor (135 in the 2003 election and 54 in the 2021 election) has made the process a farce and the task of choosing untenable.

Voters elect just one candidate in an election. Assembly Bill 2161 affords them the right to indicate their first, second or third choice. This voting process, sometimes referred to as “ranked-choice voting,” is the method used in a number of municipal elections throughout California, including those of Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco.

The ranked choice voting process can be used to choose the consensus candidate, the person the ballots conclusively show would be the one elected in a two-candidate race.  

Recognizing that dozens of candidates would run in any gubernatorial recall election, electing the consensus candidate is a valuable reform for these contentious times.

With attacks on our electoral process becoming partisan weapons, this measure restores faith in our elections.

Elections involve choice and complex theories and are by definition imperfect. One of the strengths of consensus voting is that the math produces a clear outcome by electing the one candidate preferred over every other. Restoring faith in a process by delivering clarity will remove the toxic arguments promulgated on cable TV news.

We note the inclusion of language that protects voters in the outcome of a large multi-candidate election resulting in no consensus candidate chosen. In that rare instance, the election will be decided by instant runoff, a system also used in local elections.

The best way to ensure an election results in a clear winner is to ensure that the number of candidates running represents a cohort of viable, serious and active candidates. Of the 54 contenders who filed to fill the vacancy in Sacramento if Gov. Gavin Newsom had been recalled, only a handful were serious, thoughtful candidates.

To secure a spot on a gubernatorial recall ballot, current election law requires candidates to pay a $4,000 filing fee or to gather the signatures of 7,000 registered voters. It makes better sense to eliminate the fee and require all candidates to gather the necessary signatures. 

Such a signature-gathering requirement will demonstrate a sincere commitment to waging a vibrant campaign. To ensure a more level playing field, a candidate should be able to begin collecting signatures at the time the recall petition is filed.

Assembly Bill 2161 is far from perfect, but the current process by which we recall and replace a governor is a joke told by late-night talk show hosts that only plays into the darkest partisan conspiracies.

We support any reform that moves us toward more fair and clear election outcomes.  Consensus ranked choice voting does just that.

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