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.

One of the programs that falls under the umbrella of the Capital Center for Law and Policy at McGeorge School of Law is the Municipal Innovation Program. The Programs’ current project – the California Local Redistricting Project – which is done in partnership with California Common Cause, is excited to announce a new ordinance generator for local governments to fight redistricting abuse at the local level.

The new local ordinance generator, which can be found on the California Local Redistricting Project’s website, enables any user to easily draft a sample ordinance for establishing a local independent redistricting commission. With recent news of Congressional districts being thrown out in court, having a user-friendly tool available that allows local governments in California to create tailored ordinances creating independent redistricting commissions is an incredibly important step towards fighting redistricting abuse.

Below are some selected quotes from the California Local Redistricting Project’s press release announcing the new tool.

“California’s local governments are leading the way on redistricting reform. We view this tool as a big step forward towards providing local officials and advocates with the educational resources and tools they need to consider and implement reform in their communities.”- Nicolas Heidorn, Director of California Local Redistricting Project

“This is an exciting, game-changing model for promoting local reform. This is worlds away from the traditional, one-size-fits-all packaged approach to reform. The ordinance generator gives local advocates a smarter tool to craft a reform that is tailored to the needs of their communities. This is a pioneering approach to encouraging context-dependent model legislation that we hope gets imitated in other contexts.” – Professor Leslie Gielow Jacobs, Director of Capital Center for Law & Policy at McGeorge School of Law

“When incumbents, at any level of government, draw their own election districts, it is human nature to give themselves an electoral advantage. At the local level, we have seen redistricting used to expel political challengers and excise communities of color who, incumbents fear, may not vote for them. Independent, commission-based redistricting is vital to giving all Californians a voice in our democracy.” – Kathay Feng, Executive Director of California Common Cause




California Cannabis Coalition v City of Upland

I recently sat down with Matt Read, the Policy Director for Sacramento City Council Member Steve Hansen, to discuss a very interesting California Supreme Court case – California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland. As Matt points out in the interview, the case itself was kind of boring. The implications of the decision however, are much more interesting.

Very quickly, the California Supreme Court’s decision in the case essentially ruled that parts of California’s Proposition 218 – specifically, parts related to procedures – did not apply to some initiatives that were ran in the City of Upland by marijuana dispensaries seeking clarification on rules ahead of impending state regulations. This led to other, potentially bigger questions.

Backtracking just a little bit, the most notable impact of Proposition 218 is that it instituted vote thresholds for different types of taxes levied by local governments. General taxes, those used to fund government functions generally, are subject to a 50% + 1 threshold. That’s the same threshold any political candidate needs to win office. Special taxes – taxes directed to a specific project like building new schools or road repairs – which are more commonly used by local governments, are subject to a 2/3 majority vote.

While those thresholds remain the same if a local government were to put a tax measure on the ballot, the decision in Upland potentially allows for citizen-led tax initiatives to be subject to the 50% + 1 threshold, regardless of whether the tax is a general tax or a special tax. What exactly is a citizen-led initiative? That much is unclear, or as Matt put it, “The Court punts on that … question.” You’ll have to listen to our conversation to get a better sense of why that is, and to get a better sense of the numerous other questions that this particular California Supreme Court ruling invites.

2018 was already shaping up to be a very interesting election year, and it appears that the decision in California Cannabis Coalition v. City of Upland will only make this upcoming cycle more interesting.