Candidates Miscalculate RCV’s Kumbaya Factor

It’s difficult to attract the cooperation of your opponents within RCV when divisive ads like the one above alienate a large segment of the electorate.
By Steven Tavares
The most endearing part of Ranked Choice Voting, say its supporters, is the kumbaya factor it supposedly encourages. The precepts of the new voting system debuting next week in Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro, contend candidates fair better if they can also garner the second and third place votes. To do that, you have to play nice. 
In Oakland’s unwieldy 12-person race for mayor the three second-tier candidates have banded somewhat together against favorite Don Perata. Councilwomen Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan along with college professor and television analyst Joe Tuman want voters to only choose them over the Perata monolith. Long-time Perata critic, the East Bay Express, even told its readers to vote for the trio in any combination, thus ensuring The Don’s ouster. This is how RCV works, except San Leandro never got the memo.
San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos, Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak and Stephen Cassidy have pummeled each other with verbal spats, stingy personal attacks and icy stares. Santos has eschewed RCV’s attempt at harmony saying he is looking for a majority of the vote in the first round. Starosciak has asked voters recently for their second place vote if they forego making her their top choice. Cassidy has publicly made neither offer to voters. This is not how RCV is suppose to work, according to numerous experts, including a seminar earlier this year by the New America Foundation detailing the growth of of the voting system in San Francisco.
In fact, the only candidate for mayor playing RCV to the fullest is surprisingly political neophyte Sara Mestas. The rapper turn local activist is seen as the fourth place candidate, but that has not stopped her from giving her allegiance to the expected front running incumbent mayor. The strategy being Mestas needs to jump two opponents before she can think of challenging Santos. Why Starosciak and Cassidy have not reached some sort of detente with Santos is likely due to hubris and a clash of personalities among the three. The absence of any coalition of the willing in opposition to Santos could be the defining moment of the election if the mayor is re-elected next week.