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After losing, politician rethinks ranked-choice voting

December 8, 2010 | Lance Williams



San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos was a big booster of ranked-choice voting, the controversial new system for
conducting local elections in California.
But after losing re-election by 232 votes in the sixth round of a computerized instant runoff, Santos says he
realized, too late, that ranked-choice has all sorts of problems.
The pure fact is, RCV is misunderstood by many voters, he wrote in a recent e-mail,
using the acronym by which the new system is known.
And it discriminates against minorities and individuals who have a problem with
language, and further, with the number of spoiled ballots, it reflects confusion among
many voters, enough to (skew) elections.

city photo

Mayor Tony Santos

Santos says he has such deep misgivings about the system he once championed that
he has refused to concede last months election to mayor-elect Stephen Cassidy.
Santos received the most first-place votes but lost because more voters picked Cassidy
as their second or third choices.


Instead, Santos says hes going to devote his retirement to working nationally to stop RCV elections
"This is now my goal, as he put it.
The only thing I could suggest is, ranked-choice voting is not the way to go, Santos said in an interview. My
race should be the poster child against this system.
Santos is the latest local complaint to be registered about ranked choice, a system that was first used in a
California election in San Francisco in 2004.
This November, three Alameda County cities Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro, at Santos' urging used it
for the first time. Other California cities are considering the new system for their elections, attracted in part by
the promise of cost savings: With ranked choice, theres no need to hold a second runoff election when no
candidate gets a majority of the votes.
But this year some voters including even San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, the lieutenant governor-elect
complained they found the system so confusing they didnt fill out their ballots properly.
In Oakland, former state Senate leader Don Perata, loser to council member Jean Quan, said he couldn't figure
the system out.
The San Francisco Chronicles John Diaz detailed other complaints in a recent op-ed as he noted, Perata,
Santos, and two candidates for San Francisco's board of supervisors, Janet Reilly and Tony Kelly, were
declared losers even though they got the most first-place votes.
Ranked-choice advocates have downplayed concerns, saying that the new system is legal, fair and not really
very confusing at all. Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, a nonprofit which advocates for ranked-choice
voting, said after the Oakland mayoral election:

Under the old, two round runoff system there would have been five months of mostly negative
mudslinging and a much bigger impact from big campaign spending. But with RCV, Oakland was able
to finish in a single, high turnout November election, thereby saving a lot of tax dollars and allowing
voters and candidates to participate in a robust electoral process. However the final mayoral results
turn out, this has been a win-win for democracy in Oakland.


Money from As owner

may have cost Perata


Ranked-choice voting
complicates elections


Ranked-choice voting
complaints mount

For his part, Santos says he worries that ranked-choice by its very nature disenfranchises some voters. As the
rounds of computerized runoffs proceed, more and more ballots are exhausted set aside because all the
candidates for whom voters cast ranked votes have been eliminated.
In his race, he says that more than 2,100 votes had been exhausted by the finale.
Wait a minute, he says. People who vote in elections want their votes to be counted.

Bullet train bidder has history of cost

Santos second thoughts have frayed relations with his former friends in the ranked-choice movement.
Steven Hill, a co-founder of FairVote, wrote Santos an impassioned e-mail last month trying to dissuade him
from going public with his misgivings.
Calling the mayor a model civil servant for the people of San Leandro, Hill said Santos became his personal
hero when he lobbied for the new voting system.
People will one day probably name a street or building or more after you, Hill told Santos. But Santos'
complaints risked "tarnishing" his "beautiful legacy there in SL," he warned.
It looks like you are being a sore loser and vindictive besides, Hill wrote. One of the best things that any
politician can do for their legacy is that when you lose re-election you go gracefully into that good night.

Winning bid to start high-speed rail far

below estimates
Some Calif. retirement trustees cancel
Hawaii conference plans
School discipline reform groups question
plans for armed security
Oakland school district mishandled federal
money, state finds


Hill also told Santos: What I would love to do is give you a great hug, because I feel such a warm brotherly
feeling toward you, like two soldiers of democracy that fought in the trenches together.

budget California Lost campaign

Santos doesnt appear to be interested in a graceful exit or a hug.

demographics earthquakes

finance climate change

high-speed rail
lead marijuana Medi-Cal medicare Meg
Election 2010

Last week FairVote executive director Richie e-mailed the mayor a fact sheet about the San Leandro election.
It defended the ranked-choice systems performance and asserted, Stephen Cassidy was the clear choice of
San Leandro voters.
BULLCRAP! Santos e-mailed back, using capital letters for emphasis. RCV SHOULD BE SCRAPPED

Jerry Brown

Whitman On Shaky Ground

On Shaky Ground followup patient abuse
police Prime Healthcare prisons

public schools schools

seismic safety steroids

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Filed under: Money & Politics, Daily Report
Tags: Election 2010, ranked-choice voting, san leandro

Comments are closed for this story.

December 8, 2010
I remember an press release from Steven Hill and Rob Richie that showed results frm a poll by
the Chinese American Voter Education Committee.
They stated 27% of Asian Americans found RCV difficult and 35% of blacks found it difficult. Only
13% of whites found RCV difficult.
Hill and Richie wrote the results "shows postive views"??

December 8, 2010
This is the same Steven Hill who was with Santos while Santos was telecommuting into a
council meeting - presumably telling Santos stuff about RCV to get him to vote in favor of RCV.
Now they threaten Santos and claim they won't name a street or a building after him if he goes
public with his objections over RCV. What gall - what nerve! Gee - do you suppose that Hill and
even Ritchie have told elected leaders stuff about RCV that just never really panned out? Now
you know why some people who formerly supported RCV are now the biggest opponents. I can't
speak for others, but as an opponent of RCV, I welcome Tony Santos into the "family"! That family
is growing bigger every day - because even though Richie and Hill pick up one or two places a
year to do RCV, RCV elections bomb so big that they turn some people into the biggest enemies
of RCV. Now Tony Santos wants to fight RCV nationwide - and he can surely give us some
valuable insight into the FairVote playbook-)

December 8, 2010
Ask yourself if Santos would be making this argument if he had won. Ranked choice voting
successfully eliminated the spoilers in this race (principally Starosciak and Mestas), and
determined that Cassidy had more support than Santos. Whether your spoiler was Ralph Nader
in 2000 or Ross Perot in 1992 (or someone in a local election), there's something for voters to
like in RCV. Plurality victories leave open all sorts of shenanigans like the GOP running
homeless people on the Green ticket to siphon off Democratic votes (to be fair, the Democrats
have engaged similarly) and "winners" with 30% of the votes. The confusion argument put forth
by Santos, Perata, and even Gavin Newsom, is laughable. Really, now, how har is it to rank your

choices 1st, 2nd, and 3rd? This canard is just the larger party machine voicing displeasure at
threat to its dominance. John E. Palmer

December 8, 2010
So his argument is that by returning to a system which restricts voters to only one choice on the
ballot, this will "enfranchise" voters? That's ridiculous. Also, it's completely false to say that RCV
is "misunderstood" by many voters. Ranked voting (choosing a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd choice) is not
confusing at all. If it's confusing, then why did ***99.8%*** of Oakland voters cast a valid ballot for
mayor last month? That fact was conveniently left out of the article. This article also implies that
RCV might be on shaky legal ground, when nothing could be further from the truth. There's no
mention of the federal court decision in spring which held that RCV is CLEARLY legal AND

December 8, 2010

It is unfortunate that Williams is perpetuating the myth that leading with first choice votes is
justification for winning the election. That is especially true in this case, where Santos led in the
first round with just 35.5% of the votes and Cassidy was less than 1/3 of a percent behind. Under
RCV, leading in the first round is about as relevant as leading with 10% of the precincts
The flaws of plurality voting and vote splitting are so big and the consequences of subjecting our
political system to them are so adverse, that it is regrettable that there are people like Williams
still advocating for them.
This was a close race, close from beginning to end. It is not indicative of good leadership that of
all the factors that could have readily made a difference in the outcome, like his own
performance, Santos is fixating on the criticism of RCV. Those alleged flaws would have at most
had minor effects on the final vote counts and probably wouldn't change the winner.
The few, mostly misguided objections Santos now has with RCV fall far short of the "many
myriad problems" he said he suddenly discovered once results were reported. To the extent
those problems do exist, they are fixable and do not justify scrapping RCV. The constructive
efforts Santos could have made to further improve San Leandro elections will be missed.

December 8, 2010
Mayor Santos provided many years of leadership in San Leandro. His 2010 election loss did not
occur because of RCV. It occurred because nearly 2/3 of San Leandro voters did not choose Tony
Santos as their first choice. This was not an election between newbies. After all these years the
voters of San Leandro knew Mayor Santos well enough to decide if he is their electoral love, their
passion, their sweetheart. Thirty-five point five percent (35.5%) of the voters chose incumbent
Mayor Tony Santos as their first choice, only 74 votes ahead of Cassidy. That means sixty-four
point five percent (64.5%) of the voters said WE PREFER A DIFFERENT CANDIDATE THAN
TONY SANTOS TO SERVE AS MAYOR for the next four years through 2014. Stephen Cassidy
didn't need all the rounds of voting to jump to first place. Cassidy led even when Cassidy, Santos
AND Starosciak were in the counting roll-up. Only 83 ballots out of 23494 were disqualified for
overvotes. The question former Mayor Santos should ask is why so many San Leandrans
wanted a change. Regardless of who one supported in the election, let's recognize that Ranked
Choice Voting did its job. The voice of the voters was "Let's give someone else the opportunity to
lead San Leandro." That's not personal Tony it's just reality.

Mike LaBonte
December 8, 2010
Many will assume that Santos is a "sore loser", especially when he says "My race should be the
poster child against this system". But no one here is complaining about the fact that 2nd and 3rd
place votes made Santos lose, as another commenter claims. The fact that those votes can
make someone who is not the 1st choice winner win in the end is one of the merits of RCV.
Clearly Santos knew that. What Santos is addressing is the fact that the number of ballots that
may not have been counted because the voters messed up may exceed the margin of victory. If a
regular election was won by 100 votes and 500 write-in ballots were never looked at, people
would rightfully be screaming. Santos is saying this is that kind of case. No one knows what the
outcome would have been if those voters had marked their RCV ballots correctly. Santos is not
the first RCV proponent to discover only later that it's flaws are not insignificant. Every election
method has flaws. For some reason people look at RCV and think the known flaws are so
unlikely they will never happen. Then they happen.

December 8, 2010

"But no one here is complaining about the fact that 2nd and 3rd place votes made
Santos lose, as another commenter claims."
Santos maybe isn't, but it is a misconception that Williams is promoting. You do remember
that it was one of the key complaints from the Perata camp? And it is a phenomenon that
Williams juxtaposes with Santos. Likewise with Reilly and Kelly.
"If a regular election was won by 100 votes and 500 write-in ballots were never looked

at, people would rightfully be screaming. Santos is saying this is that kind of case."
Actually no. Santos didn't say that. Besides, your analogy is badly flawed, if you are implying
the write-in ballots were valid votes. Not having your vote counted because of error by
election officials is different that not having your vote counted because of voter error. And that
is different than wishing after the fact if only the rules had been different.
No one is suggesting election officials failed to count the ballots according to the rules.
Santos is doing some wishing after the fact and he is complaining about voter confusion.
Voter confusion is something that can be decreased with continuing voter education. No
need to throw the baby out with the bath water. Voter confusion about how to mark RCV
ballots was small, especially compared to voter confusion about how the candidates would
actually perform in office. Unfortunately, Santos, Williams, and others are intent on confusing
voters even more.
Santos is being reckless when he implies that having your vote be exhausted is not having it
counted and that it disenfranchises voters, and that there were more than 2100 voters who
were somehow forced out of the election. That is Santos' own version of "BULLCRAP!". It is
a shame that people are encouraging him to go national with it.
It would have been better if voters had had the option to rank all of the candidates. But they
didn't. Santos knew that when he voted for RCV. Complaining about it now just makes him
look incompetent. Hopefully voters will have that option sometime in the future. The
limitation is imposed by the voting system, not by RCV. As more jurisdictions adopt RCV,
more voting systems will support it better. But until then, RCV is still doing a better job than
anything San Leandro has ever had.
As long as Williams keeps presenting Perata's and Newsom's feigned confusion as
genuine rather than the political theater it obviously is, Williams is just destroying his own
reputation as a journalist.

December 8, 2010
What Ryan Dunning (a RCV salesman who runs the Fresno RCV outfit) neglects to tell you, in
traditional elections, 99.99% of voters cast ballots without errors.
. So a 20x increase in bad ballots should be disturbing.
. How does one justify the >3% over vote rate in San Francisco's most impoverished district,
when normal over votes are 0.01%??
understand there are many people not as smart and engaged as you are.

December 8, 2010

"... in traditional elections, 99.99% of voters cast ballots without errors."

I'm calling you out on that one Demo123. Back that claim up with referenced, verifiable
stats. Make sure you're comparing apples to apples, in this case hand marked ballots, not
DRE ballots. It is also best to distinguish precinct scanned ballots versus vote-by-mail
"How does one justify the >3% over vote rate in San Francisco's most impoverished
district, when normal over votes are 0.01%??
One doesn't justify it. One works to improve it, regardless of the comparison and without
throwing out the good that RCV brings to that contest, to that district, and to everywhere else
that RCV is used.
And one makes fair comparisons. The above comparison is not an apples-to-apples
comparison. A fair comparison would compare the over vote rate in that RCV contest to an
over vote rate in plurality contests with 21 candidates plus a write-in that are in districts with
similar demographics, and then multiply by three, since RCV allows a voter to give three
choices instead of just one. Then you do a valid statistical test to see if any differences are
statistically significant.
Let us know when you're ready to make a fair comparison.

Parke Skelton
December 8, 2010
As the consultant for the Jean Quan race in Oakland, I believe there are good and bad features to
RCV, like in any system. However, Tony Santos is barking up the wrong tree here. Anyone who
follows politics at all knows that an incumbent who gets only 35% in a primary is almost always
in for a real drubbing in the general. In fact, under a traditional primary / general system I strongly
believe that Cassidy would have beaten Santos by a much greater number. My guess is that the
30% who voted for non-incumbents other than Cassidy would have split 20 to 10 for Cassidy,
meaning he would have won approximately 55% to 45%. Two reasons: incumbents usually have
broader name ID than challengers and receive a higher percentage of more casually cast 2nd
and 3rd place votes. In a primary / general system, the successful challenger has more of an
opportunity to polarize the election and consolidate the anti-incumbent vote. The general election
raises the profile, stature and name ID of the challenger. Also, the 2134 "exhausted" ballots
(those who voted for neither Cassidy nor Santos as a 1st, 2nd or 3rd choice)would have, in my
opinion, broken heavily for Cassidy if they had been forced to choose in a traditional runoff

election. In fact, I firmly believe that the strongest argument against RCV is that it tends to favor
incumbents -- they tend to finish in the 40s even in a crowded field and their broader name ID
helps them pick up weak 2nd and 3rd place votes. Santos, amazingly, almost won, despite the
fact that he got just over a third of the first place votes. Rather than complaining he should rightly
be attributing his near victory to RCV.

Mike LaBonte
December 9, 2010

I'm not advocating for Santos as a candidate in any way, and I'm certainly not going to get into any
argument that involves guessing how people would have voted if they understood the ballot.
This article is about the problems San Leandro voters had using RCV. Let's divide the cast
ballots into five categories regarding just the Mayor race:
1. Blank, no votes. There were 955 of these, or 4% of 23,494 ballots. No one has to vote, so we
certainly have the right to leave any race blank.
2. Invalid ballots. These have an overvote in the very first column. For San Leandro Mayor the
official results indicate there were 55 of these, or 0.23%.
3. Valid ballots that were overvoted or duplicate voted, and were not counted as a result. There
were 28 of these, or 0.12%. This is unusually low for RCV, actually.
4. Valid ballots that were overvoted or duplicate voted, but were counted anyway because a
candidate before the error was a finalist. This information is not published, but from the
ballot data I count 2,201 of these, 9.37%.
5. Valid ballots with no errors. There were 19,711 of these, 18,142 that counted for one of the
two finalists.
Having analyzed a number of RCV elections I find that on average about 8-9% of voters make
mistakes on their ballots. San Leandro had 9.72% of it's voters make some kind of mistake,
although I will say that most of their ballots counted anyway. It is common for at least 0.5% of
ballots to not count due to error, which I find troubling because that is in the same order as the
typical recount threshold.
The problem with voter education is that doing enough of it can cost just as much as the runoff
election that RCV tries to avoid. In my opinion it would be best to have machines like those in
San Francisco that fully check ballots when cast, and minimize absentee balloting.

January 10, 2011
Ranked choice is just another form of PR (proportional representation), which is used in most
European countries. Although most PR countries have a simpler form than ranked choice,
something very like it has been used successfully in Ireland (where it's called the single
transferrable vote) for most of the 20th century. Yes, it is complicated at first. But once voters
get used to it, they won't abandon it. The reason is compelling. It gives MUCH greater voice to
minority voters, whose votes are normally lost in any first-past-the-post (or simple majority)
system of voting. And it loosens the grip of the bigger parties, forcing them to compromise with
smaller parties if they want to stay in government, at least in a parliamentary system. In Ireland,
there is perhaps another reason why voters like the system. It makes every election into a far
more interesting and more sporting occasion. Election campaigns last only a few weeks
there, as in most European countries. But watching the election counts can last for days. And it's
mightily entertaining, especially if you have a bet on it. All this worry about ranked choice voting
looks like another example of American insularity.

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