Saturday, November 26, 2011

San Francisco Shows Us Democracy in Action

It's not a coincidence that we write so seldom about electoral politics; like many libertarians, our skepticism toward government intervention extends to the idea that voting confers any special legitimacy on that intervention. For one thing, elections are entirely too easy to manipulate. If you want an example, you could do worse than to take a look at the most recent mayoral election in San Francisco, which showcased the city's ranked-choice voting system.

The system works like this: if any candidate gets more than 50% of the votes in an election, he or she is declared the winner. If there's no majority winner, the candidate with the fewest votes is dropped, and his or her votes are redistributed among the others; this continues for as many rounds as it takes for a candidate to gain a majority share of the remaining votes. Of course, as more ballots cancel out, the number of votes needed to determine a winner decreases. In the San Francisco race, Ed Lee had only 43% of the vote after 12 rounds of dropping candidates, yet was declared the winner. Leaving aside the fact that 42.5% of eligible voters decided the mayor for everyone else, this implies that more than 31,500 San Franciscans were effectively disenfranchised in the election, because they didn't vote for either Lee or runner-up John Avalos. If you think ranked-choice voting sounds like a system that stacks the deck in favor of establishment candidates, well, you're not alone.


  1. Balloting along the lines of the Cy Young voting -- with ranked ballots -- strikes me as much fairer if you don't want an A-or-B vote.