San Francisco Chronicle
No quick decision on S.F.
runoff plan Judge sets hearing on issue for Aug. 20
A San Francisco Superior Court judge on Monday rejected a
request to issue an immediate order that would force the city to
start putting an instant runoff voting system in place for the Nov.
4 mayoral election.
Instead, Judge James Warren scheduled an Aug.
20 court date to take up the matter.
The Center for Voting and
Democracy, the San Francisco Labor Council, the California Congress
of Seniors and other proponents of instant runoff voting filed a
lawsuit Monday against San Francisco elections chief John Arntz and
the city's Election Commission in an attempt to make sure they don't
scrap voter-approved plans for the new vote-tallying system.
would replace the traditional runoff in which the top two
vote-getters square off in early December if no candidate got at
least 50 percent plus one vote in the Nov. 4 general election.
"We're asking the court to not allow them to pull the plug," said
Steve Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy. The plaintiffs
had asked the judge to make a quick decision Monday.
determined that it would be impossible for the city to implement
instant runoff voting -- also known as ranked-choice voting -- for
the Nov. 4 election in which races for mayor, district attorney and
sheriff will be on the ballot.
With elections workers busy
preparing for the Oct. 7 governor's recall election and federal and
state authorities yet to give the go-ahead to the new system, Arntz
said he had to pull the plug. He said there's not enough time to get
the instant runoff off the ground, given deadlines for printing
ballots and testing machinery, and educating poll workers and
Under the new system, voters would rank their top three
candidates in order of preference. If no candidate had a majority of
votes, the candidate with the least support would be eliminated and
the second choice on those ballots would move up to the top with
those votes being instantly recounted. This would continue until one
candidate had more than 50 percent of the vote.
The method has
never been used in a public election in California.
Hill and other
backers of the new system whose politics generally fall to the left
of center say that even if the machinery and software can't be put
in place in time, the city could count the votes manually.
Secretary of State squashed Arntz's back-up plan for a partial
manual count. But Hill said a company in London, Electoral Reform
Services, has the experience and the willingness to do the work
faster and cheaper than the scenario laid out by Arntz.
Reform Services has conducted such elections before, mainly for
smaller-scale contests in England.
Arntz said he doesn't want to
take a chance on the upcoming San Francisco election, telling the
court that a full manual recount of ballots proposed by the London
organization would lead to "confusion and error."
attorney, in a written response to the lawsuit, said that if the
court forced the city to implement instant runoff voting, "the
result would be missed deadlines, disruption of the election process
and a potential train wreck on November 4."
San Francisco already
has a shaky reputation when it comes to running elections and has
been under scrutiny by the Secretary of State's office for past
Hill said that if the city doesn't enact instant runoffs,
the will of voters would be thwarted and the law would be broken. In
March 2002, San Francisco voters amended the city charter to enact
instant runoff voting in time for this year's fall election. As it
now stands, he said, San Francisco has no legal provision to hold a
Opponents of instant runoffs filed their own
lawsuit on July 25 trying to block the city moving forward if the
plan entails a hand count.