[Image courtesy of KQED]
UPDATE: A commenter below passed along the link to the USF study mentioned in the article … it can be found here.
Ranked choice voting (RCV) continues to be a hot topic in San Francisco. A new report from researchers at the University of San Francisco suggests that only one-third of the city’s voters completely filled out their ballots in the November 2011 election for mayor, sheriff and district attorney.
Opponents of RCV have seized upon the data to suggest that the city should go back to more traditional methods of voting, and charge that the low rate of completion suggests the $300,000 spent on an RCV public education campaign was insufficient and/or wasted.
I haven’t seen the full report yet, but I’m pretty confident that the data contained therein shouldn’t be seen as a definitive indictment of RCV; rather, the data should tee up questions that election officials, policymakers and researchers alike should seek to answer before reaching any conclusions about RCV – either in San Francisco or in general:
- + To what extent does San Francisco’s RCV data correspond to successful adoption of RCV in other cities?
- + Change is always hard; is the San Francisco data analogous to similar data from jurisdictions adopting new technologies or rules for voting?
- + Does the low rate of ballot completion in certain minority neighborhoods – as low as 9% in Chinatown and Bayview – reflect confusion about the process or a strategic choice to reject all but voters’ first choice?
- + Does San Francisco’s policy of limiting voters to three choices – and thus discarding ballots of voters if all three choices have been eliminated – disproportionately affect certain voters?
- + And finally – did the public education campaign help at all, and was its effect enhanced or muted in different areas of the city?
San Francisco’s debate about RCV is being repeated elsewhere in California and nationwide, and it’s important to use research to answer questions about its performance for voters. Data like the USF study is tremendously helpful (and long overdue for such a hot topic) but those of us who care about elections should be careful not to allow a small handful of data to determine policy – or worse, to use a small sample to reinforce policy preferences or prejudices.
In other words, let’s not jump to conclusions on RCV – or anything else in the election sphere – until we’ve had an opportunity to collect a little more data.