Proportional ranked choice voting for school board elections in Berkeley

What would be the impacts of using proportional ranked choice voting to elect school board directors in Berkeley?

  1. Simplicity for voters — extend RCV to school board elections. Berkeley already uses ranked choice voting to elect its mayor, city council and auditor. Voters are used to ranking their ballots, so it makes sense to allow voters to rank for school board elections too. It will be less confusing if Berkeley uses the same method for all local elections.
  1. Retain citywide elections, no districts. If Berkeley’s school board was elected by proportional RCV, it will continue to be elected citywide without being forced to change to district elections.
  1. Shield Berkeley from a voting rights lawsuit. The California Voting Rights Act targets at-large elections like Berkeley’s method used to elect its school board. The use of P-RCV is well known for providing new opportunities for racial minorities to win representation without drawing districts. It’s better than districts, because minority voters would be able to win representation no matter where they live, even if they don’t live in the “right” district that had been gerrymandered to elect a minority school board member. Thus P-RCV would shield Berkeley from the threat of a voting rights lawsuit.
  1. Lower the amount of money needed to win. Currently, a successful candidate for a school board seat must win support from approximately 40% to 50% of Berkeley voters spread all over the city. With P-RCV, a candidate would need to win support from 25% to 33% of voters. This not only would open up school board elections to a broader range of viewpoints, but it also means candidates don’t need to run citywide but instead can focus on specific neighborhoods or communities where their support is strongest. Candidates wouldn’t need to depend on deep-pocketed donors to run citywide campaigns.
  1. Enjoy the benefits of ranked ballots. P-RCV would introduce ranked ballots for school board elections, with all of its benefits including:  a) allowing voters to pick more choices without fear of wasting their votes on spoiler candidates; b) reducing vote-wasting strategies like “bullet voting”; and 3) allowing candidates to use the ranked ballots to build coalitions and find common ground with other candidates and their supporters.
  1. Districts will divide city resources. The educational needs of schools and families are similar across the city and from one neighborhood to another. Dividing those needs into geographic districts could result in some schools being better served than others.
  1. Better, diverse representation. P-RCV does a superior job of ensuring broad representation and allowing candidates from traditionally underrepresented communities to win election without relying on a redistricting commission to draw the right district lines. Voters will win representation no matter where they live.
  1. Best of both worlds: neighborhood and citywide representation. P-RCV allows a natural give-and-take between electing representatives who are based in neighborhoods and represent neighborhood interests, and other representatives that pay more attention to citywide issues. Both citywide and neighborhood issues are important, but districts only pays attention to neighborhood issues, and at-large elections only to citywide issues. Only P-RCV allows a hybrid of both of these important perspectives.

These are important benefits that Berkeley would enjoy by making a modest change to using a proportional ranked choice voting method that allows voters to rank their ballots like they already do for mayor and city council, yet preserving citywide elections and avoiding districts.