The Crusade Against Ranked-Choice Voting

By Steven Tavares

Opponents of ranked-choice voting typically share one unique trait–they have been bitten by its topsy-turvy results in the past. Newly-minted adversaries of the election system include San Leandro Mayor Tony and Don Perata. Santos was in favor of RCV before he was against it and now vows to became a lightning for opposition of its implementation across the country.

“Know this, most people who are against RCV were once for it.” said RCV opponent Terry Reilly in an email to Santos. “They might have thought it was a cool sounding idea in theory, bought the sales pitch, but upon further study, or experiencing it, they find it is not all that it is cracked up to be.” Reilly has been a vocal opponent of RCV in the South Bay and has drawn the ire of supporters from the New America Foundation and FairVote, which have went to great pains to discredit him.

Santos says he plans to give voice to opposition of RCV around the country starting with a ballot measure set for next April in Fort Collins, Colo. The epicenter of the anti-RCV cause is its repeal in Pierce, Wash. where the heavily-populated county rejected ranked-choice voting after just one election.

“Down the road, I hope to never have a RCV election in San Leandro, again,” Santos said Monday night at a city council meeting. “It turns out RCV is really undemocratic,” he said, while maintaining the city’s mayoral election last month did not produce a charter-mandated majority winner. Santos, like Perata in Oakland, received the most first-place votes, but ultimately failed to gain enough second and third-place votes to stave off their challengers. He believes the number of exhausted ballots from the other three candidates were disenfranchised by RCV. “I’m not too sure those you voted for Starosciak, Mestas and Palau are happy to know their votes really did not count,” Santos said.

San Leandro resident Benny Lee asked the council Monday night to take steps to repeal RCV for future elections. Lee called the system “highly flawed” and “deliberately disenfranchises voters.” Another resident, Hendy Huang, who has been critical of mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy in the past, agreed and said outreach by the city and county explaining RCV was a problem for many in the Asian community of whom English is a second language.

“RCV worked exactly as we were told it would work,” said Councilman Bill Stephens. The termed-out member had been an opponent of RCV in the past and had raised many of the same issues, such as voter disenfranchisement and fairness of the system, before the council approved its use back in January.

Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak, who finished third in the race for mayor sounded resigned to the results of the election. With her voice on the verge of cracking, Starosciak lobbied, along with Councilwoman Diana Souza, to return to simple plurality elections and reiterated her opposition to RCV along its increased up-front costs in a time of budget austerity. “I know the race this year has been difficult. San Leandro will make the decisions it makes,” said Starosciak.

It is likely the post mortem on RCV in San Leandro has yet to be written. In the meantime, a period of post-election healing from a hard-fought election season was urged by Stephens. “When the fight is over, we smile, take the tally and move on,” or in Stephens’ case, put your house up for sale and move out of town.