San Francisco has had a lively debate over their Ranked Choice Voting policy since its inception. Ranked choice voting (RCV) is where voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. A candidate who wins the majority of first-choice votes is declared the winner. If no candidate wins on first-choice, the candidate with the fewest is eliminated and the second-choice on the eliminated candidate becomes first-choice for the remaining candidates. This is repeated until a candidate has won the majority of first-choice votes. Complicated? Maybe it’s easier to show you:

Candidate 1 has 450 votes or 40% of the votes

Candidate 2 has 300 votes or 26.67% of the votes

Candidate 3 has 200 votes or 17.78% of the votes

Candidate 4 has 175 votes 15.56% of the votes

Candidate 1 has a plurality, but not a majority. Rather than have Candidates 1 and 2 run head to head against each other in another election Candidate 4 is eliminated and the voters who selected them will now have their second-choice votes counted as first-choice. Assuming 75% of Candidate 4’s voters have Candidate 1 as their second choice and 25% have Candidate 2 as their second choice. When Candidate 4’s votes are redistributed, the outcome is:

Candidate 1 now has 582 votes or 51.73% of the votes

Candidate 2 now has 343 votes of 30.48% of the votes

Candidate 3 now has 200 votes or 17.78% of the votes

Candidate 1 now has a majority and is elected.

But this voting system can also get tricky. What if all of Candidate 4’s voters had Candidate 2 as their second choice? The result would instead look like this:

Candidate 1 has 450 votes, or 40% of the votes.

Candidate 2 has 475 votes, or 42.22% of the votes.

Candidate 3 has 200 votes, or 17.78% of the votes.

In this scenario, since neither Candidates 1 nor 2 have a majority. Candidate 3 is eliminated and their votes are redistributed based on who they have as their second choice candidate. And depending on how that breaks down, Candidate 1 – who led after the first round of votes were counted – could win or Candidate 2 – who led after the second round of votes were counted – could win.

California only has four cities that use ranked choice voting– San Francisco, Oakland, San Leandro, and Berkeley.

But now, another debate has been added to the mix. San Francisco city officials are recommending that instead of only having 3 ranked-choice selections, voters can select up to 10 candidates. The limitation of 3 ranked-choice selections was due to voting machine restrictions, but now San Francisco will have new ballots and machines that can be used as soon as the November 2019 election.

But ranked voting isn’t the only unconventional voting system in California, for long… Mission Viejo announced on July 27 that starting in 2020, it will put a cumulative voting structure in place. Mission Viejo would be the first city in California to implement this voting system.

For example, assume three of Missions Viejo’s City Council seats are up for election and there are five candidates running for those three seats. A voter in Mission Viejo would have three votes – one for each open City Council position – that they could cast however they choose. That could mean casing all three votes for one candidate, two votes for one candidate and one for another, or one vote for three different candidates.

Cumulative Voting is a method of election in which voters have a number of votes equal to the number of seats to be elected. Voters can assign as many of their votes to a particular candidate or candidates as they wish. Most commonly, it has been used to resolve voting rights cases for city council, county commission, and school board elections.

The difference between ranked choice voting and cumulative voting is this- in ranked choice voting – like traditional voting in California and the rest of the US – one candidate can receive a maximum of one vote from a voter. Cumulative voting, however, allows a voter as many votes for a candidate (or candidates) as there are opening seats.