City of Berkeley opposes assembly bill to repeal ranked-choice voting

staff of Berkeley City Hall
Eran Kohen Behar/Staff
California AB 2808 seeks to remove Berkeley's ranked-choice voting in favor of traditional voting methods. However, the bill was ultimately not moved forward by the Assembly Elections Committee.

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California AB 2808, which would replace ranked-choice voting, or RCV, with a more standard method if passed, is drawing criticism from city of Berkeley officials, who question if traditional voting has the capability to promote diversity in governing bodies and increase voter turnout.

Since 2010, Berkeley has conducted its city elections through RCV, a system that allows voters to rank multiple candidates in order of preference. Stefan Elgstrand, spokesperson for Berkeley mayor Jesse Arreguín, added that if the bill had gone forward, it would have repealed Berkeley’s RCV system. However, AB 2808 was not recommended by the Assembly Elections Committee last week, which effectively “kills the bill,” according to Elgstrand.

“RCV is gaining popularity across the state and beyond,” Arreguín said in an emailed statement. “I am pleased that the Assembly Elections Committee recognizes the importance and benefits of RCV by not moving forward with AB 2808.”

AB 2808 claims RCV is too complex and would lead to the disenfranchisement of Berkeley voters. The bill also states that the benefits of RCV — including diversity, voter turnout and decreased expenses — have not been visibly achieved.

Unlike traditional methods of voting, RCV allows voters to choose multiple candidates in order of preference, according to Arreguín. If no candidate receives a majority of first-choice votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated, and the second-choice votes are redistributed. This process repeats until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.

In an article written by Arreguín and Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf, the two noted how RCV removes the need for runoff elections.

“Holding just one election instead of two reduces the burden on voters, and ultimately leads to far more voters — and a far more representative group of voters — participating in choosing their local government,” Schaaf and Arreguín said in the article.

Arreguín and Schaaf also emphasized the role RCV plays in increasing diversity across the political spectrum.

Having been elected through RCV systems, both argued that this system of voting allows for more representation in government.

“In communities that have implemented RCV, their elected officials are more likely to represent the diverse demographics of that community,” Arreguín said in the emailed statement. “In all Bay Area cities with RCVs, their mayors are either women or people of color. Additionally, Councils in cities with RCV are comprised of 51% women, whereas cities without it average 41% women.”

The city of Berkeley will continue to elect officials through RCV, a system that Arreguín describes as “easy and democratic.”

Contact Grace Nelligan at [email protected].