.Letter to the Editor: A Better Way to Vote

Re: “Re: Districting” (GT, 9/22): Currently both Watsonville and Santa Cruz use plurality voting to elect its city council. Plurality at-large is used in Santa Cruz, and was used in Watsonville before 1989. Each citizen can only vote for a number of candidates equal to the positions open. If four must be elected, citizens must vote for no more than four. The four candidates who receive the most votes are elected. The problem is that plurality frequently allows less than 50% of the citizens to elect all the winners. Therefore, it prevents the remaining votes from helping to elect candidates of their choice. This is illustrated by the election results for the existing Santa Cruz Council:

        All Winners     All Losers

2018 47.05%          52.95%

2020 44.04%          55.96%

About 53% and 56% of the votes were prevented from helping to elect a representative of their choice.

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When this happens to members of a Black, Latino, or other minority, the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) refers to these wasted votes as being “diluted.” It requires cities to change their voting methods to reduce this dilution as much as possible. Watsonville’s change to by-district elections reduced the vote dilution somewhat because districts could be drawn containing enough Latino voters to elect their councilmember by a plurality. The same seems not to be possible in Santa Cruz. At the same time, see how many votes can also be diluted in a district in which candidate C is elected with 34% of the votes when candidates A and B received 33% each–66% of the votes diluted.

Unfortunately, a majority of the Santa Cruz Council are locked within a plurality mindset. They have not even considered the two better alternatives that use modified at-large elections, but not plurality: Single transferable voting (STV) dilutes about 12%. An improved STV method called evaluative proportional representation (EPR) dilutes 0%. Each of these ballots can be as easy to use as a plurality ballot.

Democratically, EPR is the most attractive because it guarantees that every citizen’s vote will proportionally increase the voting power in the council of the elected candidate judged suitable for office by that citizen. If 30% of the voting population in Santa Cruz vote for a Latino candidate, that candidate will have 30% of the votes in the council. There are more details at https://www.jpolrisk.com/legislatures-elected-by-evaluative-proportional-representation-epr-an-algorithm-v3/.

Stephen Bosworth

Santa Cruz

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