How we vote: Ranked Choice Voting and “Top Two”

I had an email conversation with Joe, a dancer friend of mine, and I’m sharing part of it in this blog. It’s about the voting systems showing up on our ballots in the Bay Area. We’ve had some election changes in recent years, and so our November ballot shows evidence of two systems: Ranked Choice Voting and “Top Two” primary.

Ranked Choice Voting, also known as IRV/Instant Runoff Voting, takes place in one election — the November “general” election — the election in which people are more likely to vote. San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro in the Bay Area use this voting system for municipal offices.

In RCV voters rank their choices 1-2-3 so that the winner actually gets a majority of votes in one election. If a voter’s first choice is out of the running, then their 2nd choice gets picked up and so on until someone gets a majority of 50%+1.  The goal is that you can vote for the candidate you prefer (what a concept!) and then put as your 2nd and 3rd choices the next best and the lesser-of-two-evil candidates. The question of “spoiler” is thrown out the window. Vote for who you want without regard to “who-can-win”, a label which unfortunately is determined by money from the 1% and their corporations.

The other system is the “Top Two” Primary and it’s the reason there are only two people on the November ballot for state offices this election. The Top Two primary system still uses two elections rather than one. In the June primary, a lower turnout election (only 30% this time!), the field gets whittled down to two. Top Two primaries have historically favored incumbents and highly funded candidates because of name recognition. They win the top two spots in the primary and all others (like Greens) are cut out of the general election in November. That’s what happened in June 2012, the first Top Two primary in California.

This can change for the better, however, since in “Top Two” any voter can vote for any candidate.  In the future the top two could be a Green or other no-corporate-money candidate and a Titanic Party candidate. And the no-corporate-money candidate would have a good chance of winning! In California, we might have an even better chance if there were just a Green/no-corporate-money candidate and a Republican rather than a Democrat.

That’s looking ahead to 2014. As for 2012, the only chance you have to vote Green is in some local races and for president — so take advantage of that!

Here’s to building strength in the “No Corporate Money” Campaign.

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