A Charter Review Committee (CRC), appointed by San Bernardino City Mayor and Council, met regularly over the last few months to review any suggestions from the community and make recommendations as to how to improve the charter. The CRC unanimously passed two initiatives during their December and January meetings – to establish an independent redistricting commission starting in 2030, and to adopt Ranked Choice Voting, an alternative to the traditional method of voting for one candidate.
According to James Albert, a member of the CRC and the Advisory Redistricting Commission in the 2020 process and current member of the League of Women Voters San Bernardino Chapter (LOWV), the establishment of an independent redistricting commission would ensure that constituents would be efficiently represented.
“I was really discouraged by was the partisan gerrymandering that took place in terms of not necessarily considering any maps that didn’t have incumbents in their separate wards, (whereas) in redistricting you’re really supposed to prioritize keeping equal population per district and keeping communities of interest together while preserving the Voting Rights Act,” Albert indicated. “It was clear from the early start that the incumbents really wanted to preserve their power.”
San Bernardino 2nd Ward Councilperson Sandra Ibarra disagreed, noting that she lost 2,000 registered voters and ended up with an underrepresented part of town.
“This was done by the commissioners and consulting company, my colleagues voted on the only two maps they were shown,” Ibarra indicated.
The LOWV was one of the leading advocates in passing the statewide initiative that expanded the independent redistricting commission which just convened and oversaw the state map boundary process for the state legislative districts, House of Representatives, and the Board of Equalization.
“Now we’re trying to expand that independent type process at our local level which is still advisory, and at the end of the day it’s still the incumbents making the final decision,” noted Albert, a 20-year resident of San Bernardino.
The second initiative unanimously passed by the CRC is Ranked Choice Voting (RCV), a process whereby voters would select candidates by picking their first-choice candidate with the option of choosing backup candidates in order of preference: second, third, etc. It eliminates the two-choice system and opens the process up to multiple candidates. San Bernardino is one of 121 charter cities in California that are eligible to pursue RCV because of state law.
If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, that candidate wins, just like in any other election. However, if there is no majority winner after counting first choices, the race is decided by an “instant runoff.” The candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated, and voters who picked that candidate as ‘number 1’ will have their votes count for their next choice. This process continues until two candidates remain, and the majority candidate wins.
According to Albert, RCV promotes majority rule without the need for a second runoff election. Voters can honestly rank the candidate they like most, without fear that doing so will help the candidate they like least. With greater choice, voters have more power. Candidates have incentives to engage with all voters to earn both first choices and later choices, meaning voters will have a greater chance of being heard and campaigns will reduce personal attacks. Because RCV only requires one election, it can save taxpayers’ dollars by eliminating the cost of a second runoff election.
“In this system there’s no more strategic voting, but more sincere voting and candidates are more incentivized to build broader consensus and run more civilized campaigns because you may not be the voters’ first choice but you certainly want to be their second or third.”
RCV is gaining momentum across the country: New York City began using RCV in 2021 for city primary and special elections after 74% of voters approved its use. Voters in ten cities approved RCV ballot measures in 2020-2021 and will begin using RCV over the next two years. When the Utah state legislature created an RCV municipal pilot program, 23 cities opted in to use RCV in 2021.
RCV was used for Democratic presidential primaries and caucuses in five states in 2020, reported RCV Primer 2022. It was also used by three state Republican parties to elect officers and party nominees, including the winning Republican slate of candidates for Virginia statewide office in 2021. It has also been adopted by more than 40 local jurisdictions across 14 states to elect mayors, city councilors, and other local offices. Six states use RCV ballots for military and overseas voters so that they can participate in congressional runoff elections without the need to receive and return a second ballot.
Additionally, Albert indicated, RCV has been shown and associated with getting more women and people of color elected.
“In the city of San Bernardino that’s majority women, we only have two of the seven council people who are women. (RCV) could be a transformational change.”
The next step is for City Council to decide whether or not to put the two recommendations – to establish an independent redistricting commission and to adopt Rank Choice Voting – on the November ballot.
“I feel that one of the biggest reasons why we have such a low civically engaged city is because there is so much mistrust between our constituents and our leadership, and these two initiatives, Independent Redistricting Commission and RCV, is really about constituent empowerment and bringing more consensus-building rather than negative campaigning and the tribalism that exists within our local leadership.”
Various city councilpersons did not immediately respond to requests for comment.