Opinion: Why Irvine needs ranked Choice voting

Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice VotingAn official from one of the county political parties once told me that he doesn’t care about voter mandates, and that if a candidate wins with only a minority of votes cast, the voters have in some sense spoken. Sure, I answered him, but how much are we allowing the voters to say? And is the system designed for them to truly be understood?

In the 2022 Irvine mayoral race, Farrah Khan was re-elected mayor with only 37.82% of the vote. Two years ago, sheOpinion won the office with 47.56% — still not a majority, but at least a somewhat better plurality. Since 1988, Irvine has now elected mayors with less than half of the votes cast nine times.  In three of the remaining elections the winner ran unopposed. That leaves only six of eighteen elections in which a contested race produced a mayor with more than 50% of the vote.

That is an appalling record. To see why, let’s take a look at the results for the 2022 mayoral election:

One possible interpretation of these results is that as many as 62.18% of voters did not want a second term for Farrah Khan and would not have opted for a second term even if their preferred candidate couldn’t be the winner. There’s no way to know this for sure since our electoral system isn’t designed to listen to the voters when that is what they’d like to say. But there are alternatives to our system that do just that.

Ranked Choice Voting

Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) systems require a winner to receive over 50% of the vote but allow voters to rank the candidates in order of preference in order to get there. There are variations on how it works, but commonly the candidate who was ranked first by the fewest voters is eliminated, and then the second choices of those voters are transferred to those candidates. If there is still no candidate with over 50% of the vote, another candidate is eliminated, and the votes are transferred again. This continues until there is a candidate that exceeds 50% of the vote.

If we take the above results as the hypothetical first round votes of a 2022 mayoral election conducted using RCV, we can only speculate as to how the votes would have been transferred as candidates were eliminated and second, third, or even fourth ranks were applied. It is very possible that Farrah Khan would still have been elected. And, if that is the true will of the electorate, that is the outcome that should be allowed to manifest. But if it were the case that the 62.29% of voters, or even 50% + 1, could have coalesced their support using RCV around an alternative candidate, then that majority should have the ability to do so. Because democracy should never be government by those whom the majority do not want in office.

There is much talk these days about switching to district-based elections for the city council and expanding its size, and I agree with both of those proposals. But implementing RCV is every bit as important as those other proposed reforms. It is time to give voters in Irvine the ability to say what they mean in our municipal elections.

For more info on Ranked Choice Voting read: https://irvinewatchdog.org/election-2020/opinion-irvine-elections-do-not-truly-represent-the-majority/

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