Back in October, Governor Gavin Newsom vetoed a bill that would have allowed more cities, counties and school districts across the state to switch to a ranked-choice voting system. The bill, Senate Bill 212 (SB 212), was overwhelmingly approved by both the state Senate and the Assembly. In a ranked-choice voting system, voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots, and if a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, then that person is declared the winner. However, Governor Newsom is not a fan of this voting system, and his dislike goes back over 16 years ago to when he was a San Francisco Supervisor. Governor Newsom stated the following in his veto message,
Ranked choice is an experiment that has been tried in several charter cities in California. Where it has been implemented, I am concerned that it has often led to voter confusion and that the promise that ranked-choice voting leads to greater democracy is not necessarily fulfilled.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, then-San Francisco Supervisor Newsom stated the following as he joined a ballot argument against Proposition A in 2002, which brought the voting system to the city,
The cure being proposed is far worse than the disease. We do not believe that the Board (of Supervisors) should be experimenting with San Franciscans’ hard-fought right to vote. Primaries and runoff elections have served our nation well for most of its history.
Ranked-choice voting is also known as instant runoff and it is designed to eliminate low-turnout December elections that occur when no candidate gets a majority of votes in the November general election. If no one receives a majority in the first count, the lowest-ranking candidate is removed from the ballot and that person’s votes automatically go to that voter’s second choice. This process continues until a candidate has 50 percent, plus one, of the votes. San Francisco isn’t the only city in California that utilizes this system; the cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro have also used this voting system since 2010. Since these cities are charter cities, they can make their own election rules. It will be interesting to see if another bill is proposed in the future that will give cities, counties and school districts the option to change their voting system.