What is the Measure A ballot question?

"Shall the City Charter be amended: to establish two districts starting in 2018 to be represented by three council members each; and, when available, use ranked choice voting to allow voters to select candidates in order of choice to determine the winners of elections of all city elected officials?"

What is ranked choice voting?

  • Ranked Choice Voting is a method of voting in which voters rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference – first, second, third, and so on.
  • Voters can cast their vote for the candidate they truly prefer knowing that if that candidate doesn’t get enough votes to have a chance to win, their ballot will still count for their next choice.
  • RCV is proven in major elections around the county. It’s simple voting method that gives voters more choice by eliminating the spoiler effect and leveling the playing field for all candidates.
  • RCV is sometimes referred to as Single Transferable Vote in a multi-winner election or Instant Runoff.

Why is the city divided into two districts?

The ballot propositions proposes that Santa Clara be divided into two districts, each of which elects three members to the city council every four years.  Why?

There are several reasons that dividing the city into two districts makes our elections better:

  • First, as Santa Clara continues to grow, the effort and money required for individuals to run for office also increases.  By dividing the city into two districts, each of which has roughly 65,000 people, a candidate needs to spend less money on many things, and it is easier for candidates to meet their constituents, walk the precincts to discuss issues.
  • Second, because of the demographics in the city, by dividing the city into two districts it makes it more likely that citizens protected by the California Voter Rights Act will be able to via ranked choice voting elect candidates of their choosing, since to win in a three member district a candidate needs support of 25% of the voting population.
  • Lastly, the city is currently being sued for violating the California Voter Rights Act, and while it's unclear whether the city is actually at fault or not, the law provides a safe harbor for cities which adopt districts in response to a lawsuit.  Not including districts might lead to the city being liable for hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees, which doesn't help anyone in the city.

What if Measure A fails?

If Measure A fails to get a majority in the election, then the city is back to where it was before it established the charter review commission.  And, it is still being sued by a plaintiff who claims that our elections are unfair and illegal, and that suit will proceed because the city will not have done anything to try to make things better.

If Measure A fails to get 50% of the vote, and pass, then very likely the judge who is currently considering the lawsuit against the city of Santa Clara for violating the California Voter Right Act will find that Santa Clara is in violation of the law, and this judge will impose a remedy since the citizens did not approve of this solution.  The plaintiffs are asking the judge to divide the city into seven single member districts and eliminate the elected office of mayor.  Each district will elect one council member, so instead of voting for three council members and the mayor, we'll instead get to vote for exactly one council member and the office of mayor will likely rotate among the members of the city council each year.

How does ranked choice voting work for voters?

Ranked choice voting (RCV) allows you to rank the candidates on your ballot in order of preference. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3, but this simple process has the power to remake our elections, and our democracy.

How is ranked choice voting fair?

  • Ranked choice voting (RCV) produces fairer results because every voter has their vote meaningfully cast, whether they support a candidate that receives more votes than they need or a candidate that gets last place.
  • RCV gives voters the power to rank their preferences which means if someone’s favorite candidate can’t win, their vote counts for their next choice. This way, every vote will count, while winner-take-all elections opens the door for vote splitting issues and entire communities not being represented at all.
  • In an election to fill more than one seat, RCV is used to ensure that voters in the majority elect a majority of seats, but voters in the minority are still able to elect their fair share.

Is ranked choice voting legal?

  • RCV is legal and helps to strengthen our democratic process. Four California charter cities use ranked choice voting (San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro). A legal challenge to RCV in San Francisco was unanimously rejected by a federal judge and the 9th circuit court of appeals.
  • Further, Santa Clara is a charter city, which means it has broad power over its municipal affairs, including the election method used for city offices. Therefore, it can determine its own election system and adopt ranked choice voting.
  • New York and Massachusetts courts have upheld the constitutionality of fair election systems, and multi-winner RCV is currently used to elect city officials in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Are ranked choice ballots confusing for the average voter?

  • Whether it's deciding what ice cream flavor you want when it’s available or what movie to see, we make ranked choices every day of our lives. Shouldn't we have the same power to rank candidates for public office?
  • Evidence from across the country suggests that voters will be ready to embrace RCV. RCV is used to elect Supervisors, Mayors, City Councilmembers, and School Board members in Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco, and San Leandro and data shows that voters are easily able to use it. In fact, Bay Area voters have been making more errors when voting in primaries for governor and U.S. Senator than in RCV elections for mayor.

What does a ranked choice voting ballot look like?

See the below picture of a sample Ranked Choice Voting ballot from the state of Maine. All of the vendors competing for our county's business provide similar-looking Ranked Choice Voting ballots.

It's simple! You just fill in the ovals to rank your candidates in order of preference.

You can rank as many candidates as you wish, and your vote will only go to those candidates that you rank.

For another example, below is a Ranked Choice Voting ballot from the city of Santa Fe, New Mexico.   The below is from the mayoral election held in March 2018.

Ranked Choice Voting Ballot from Santa Fe, New Mexico

I heard there were problems with RCV in Oakland, why are we trying to bring it here?

  • RCV has worked well in Oakland, and is popular among its voters and elected leaders. It has helped elect strong and beloved elected officials while keeping costs to taxpayers low and removing the need for a run-off election. It can be tempting to blame a new system for a politician we don’t fully support, but true participatory democracy means opening up the field to a variety of candidates.
  • Under RCV, voters across the Bay Area have elected candidates more representative of themselves and their communities and given more people the chance to run for office.
  • Some people may still have negative opinions about Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) because of Don Perata's defeat in Oakland's 2010 mayoral race, which Jean Quan narrowly won. Please see this analysis by CFER. In short, Jean Quan would have won even if Oakland had continued to use their traditional run-off system instead of RCV. The main failure in that election was that the Registrar did not report the results properly, announcing the first round results and then not releasing the final tally until 3 days later. Since then, RCV election administration practices have improved so that preliminary tallies are now done on election night. Under the same RCV system, voters ousted Quan four years later and elected the current mayor Libby Schaaf.
  • Oakland and SF are currently limited by their voting machines to allow voters to rank only 3 candidates (those machines are scheduled to be replaced with more RCV-capable equipment). This won't be an issue at all in Santa Clara, where our county Registrar of Voters is in the process of procuring equipment that will allow voters to rank up to 10 candidates.