This posted was updated on November 10th and again in April 2015.
Bay Area voters in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Leandro on November 4th elected 22 offices with ranked choice voting (RCV). Even ballots are still being scanned, we already know important information about these elections. Here are highlighted facts, with many derived from analysis of ballot image data by volunteers with Californians for Electoral Reform.
Two new mayors were elected, with Libby Schaaf winning in Oakland and Pauline Cutter winning in San Leandro: Both women emerged from hotly contested mayoral races with big wins. Among ballots already counted, Schaaf defeats city councilor Rebecca Kaplan by a margin of 26% in the final "instant runoff" and defeats all other candidates by larger margins when compared one-on-one. Cutter defeats Diana Souza by 12% in the final instant runoff round.
How Libby Schaaf won - and how she explains ranked choice voting: FairVote has created a round-by-round visual demonstration of Libby Schaaf's win. Schaaf embraced ranked choice voting in her campaign - as she explains in this video - and ultimately secured the second or third choice support of more than three in ten of the backers of her six strongest opponents (that is, everyone who won more than 0.2% of first choices). That ability to connect with so many Oakland voters was fostered by the fact that ranked choice voting, as East Bay Express' Robert Gammon reported, led to a campaign that was exceptionally civil and almost completely devoid of independent expenditures, despite the high stakes.
Voters used their rankings in high numbers: Voters have embraced the ranked choice ballot. Despite no government voter education efforts of note this year, 74% of Oakland voters ranked three different candidates (the maximum allowed) and another 11% of voters ranked two.
In all 24 elections well over 99% of voters have cast a valid ballot. In contrast, in the first use of the Top Two primary in Alameda County in June 2012, more than four percent of voters in Oakland and San Leandro invalidated their ballots in the U.S. Senate primary. Evidence suggests that it is the number of candidates that affects voter error, not the opportunity to rank candidates.
Fewer voters skip city elections with RCV and turnout was at its highest in decisive elections: Statewide and congressional elections typically drive voter turnout far more than city elections. This year, the nation is projected to have its lowest congressional election turnout since 1942, with some 37 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. But due to RCV, all of the decisive elections in these Bay Area cities were when a larger, more diverse group of voters was participating, not the much lower, less representative turnout one sees in June primaries or most December runoffs.
Furthermore, when national and city elections are combined on the same ballot, many voters will skip past their local election. With ranked choice voting, however, voters are engaged in city elections. They have more choices and they hear from more candidates. Consider that in the Oakland mayoral race, 32 out of every 33 voters cast a vote for mayor.
One of San Francisco's most diverse wards is District 10, which in 2014 was the only RCV election in San Francisco to require multiple rounds to determine a winner. 92% of voters voted in Supervisor Malia Cohen's re-election under RCV. This is a continuation of the trend in the 10th District, in which fewer and fewer voters skip their local race: in 2010, 88% of voters cast ballots in the Supervisor race. In 2000, the last election before RCV, 83% of 10th District voters voted in the Supervisors race in November- and that year barely half as many voters turned out for the December runoff as had voted in the November election.
What about the timing of the RCV tally? In 2012, in the midst of a presidential election with much higher turnout, both Alameda County and San Francisco ran the first ranked choice voting tallies by 9 pm on election night, using the same voting equipment as this year - any delays this year were not due to RCV in itself. Furthermore, any delay in knowing winners of the remaining close races is exactly the same as in any close election - we simply need to get all the ballots reviewed and scanned before we know who has won a close election.
Women won a large majority of the 24 RCV elections: Women have a history of doing well in ranked choice voting elections. This year, women won 17 of 24 seats, including nine of 11 races that were open seats or where an incumbent was defeated.
In Oakland this year, women came close to sweeping all eight RCV elections. Libby Schaaf won the mayoral race and women candidates were the top three finishers in first choices. Women won the citywide auditor race, two of three Oakland city council seats being elected (incumbent Desley Brooks and newcomer Annie Campbell Washington, with Dana King narrowly losing in another open seat race), and all three school board elections in open seat races.
In San Leandro, Pauline Cutter won the open seat race for mayor, defeating another woman who finished second. Women also won two of three city council seats, all of which were also open seats.
In San Francisco, all incumbents won easily in the five RCV elections for the Board of Supervisors and two citywide offices, including women in three of five seats and one of two citywide office.
Berkeley had an uncontested citywide race for auditor (retained by a female incumbent) and four city councils seats up for election, with a female and two male incumbents retaining their seats and an open seat race ultimately won by a woman Lori Droste.