San Francisco Chronicle
vote gets fanciful scenarios
Analyst predicts a change in the political culture
By Suzanne Herel
of San Francisco's political scene predict some unusual behavior to accompany
the introduction of ranked-choice voting in November -- like candidates for the
same supervisorial seat co-hosting community events, and even sharing
"There will be a change in the political culture," Steven Hill, senior
analyst for the Center on Voting and Democracy, said during a recent
presentation explaining ranked-choice voting.
The newfangled system was mandated by city voters two years ago and is to be
used for the first time Nov. 2, when seven seats on the 11-member Board of
Supervisors will be up for election. Supervisors are chosen by district
Ranked-choice voting -- also called instant runoff voting -- will allow voters
to list their first, second and third choices for supervisor. (At least five
candidates have filed to run in each district in November.)
When the votes are tallied, voters' first choices will be counted first. If a
candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she will be declared
But if no one gets more than 50 percent -- which is more likely -- the process
The candidate who receives the least number of first-place votes will be thrown
out of contention. Ballots that had the losing candidate marked as a first
choice will then be examined for the voters' second choice. Those votes will be
calculated into the mix of remaining candidates, with the last-place contender
in that round eliminated.
The process would continue until a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the
Proponents say the system does away with costly runoffs and allows voters to
choose a lesser-known candidate in the early round without throwing away their
Hill said the new system may alter the way candidates campaign, because they'll
need to please more people. They'll still want their staunch supporters, but
they'll also want their opponents' supporters, who may be willing to vote for
them as a second or third choice.
"They're going to have to learn to build coalitions more than they're used
to," Hill said. "Candidates are appearing at each other's functions.
... Democratic clubs who are usually at each other's throats are having
conversations. If you start slinging mud, it could really backfire."
When groups are considering endorsements, they may decide to offer slates of
candidates in hopes that at least one of them will win, Hill said.
Alex Clemens, president of Barbary Coast Consulting, said ranked-choice voting
is bound to affect elections on a district-by-district basis.
"For a race with a strong incumbent with only a couple lesser-known
challengers, ranked-choice voting will not have much of an impact," he
said. "But in a race like District 5, where dozens of candidates are
attempting to differentiate themselves, ranked-choice voting's strengths and
weaknesses will be in full view."
In that district, where at least 30 people have filed an intention to run for
the seat being left open by the departure of board President Matt Gonzalez,
voters could return more than 27,000 combinations of three names, Clemens has
Robert Haaland, considered by many as a lead candidate for the District 5 seat,
and Michael O'Connor, who also is running for it, have decided to informally
endorse each other. On Aug. 26, they'll co-host a fund-raiser at O'Connor's
club, the Independent, and share the proceeds.
O'Connor acknowledged that he doesn't have the Democratic Party allegiance that
Haaland has, and said he wanted to throw his support behind a candidate he
Although O'Connor said the move wasn't strictly strategic, but rather in the
spirit of collaboration that grew out of caring for District 5, it fits neatly
into the theory held by Jim Stearns, of Stearns Consulting. He's working on the
re-election campaigns of supervisors Aaron Peskin, Jake McGoldrick and Tom
"It's very important for the strategy of a candidate to know who is going
to come in last and who is going to come in first and second," Stearns
said. "In D5 it's likely that Robert Haaland and Ross Mirkarimi will come
in at one or two."
Assuming Haaland and Mirkarimi would come in at the top, it's in their best
interest to campaign for the votes of the candidates expected to lose, he said.
In races where the incumbent has a strong challenger -- such as in District 1,
where retired Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing already is raking in campaign
donations to take on McGoldrick -- ranked-choice voting could work against the
incumbent, Stearns said.
"If you could get an 'anybody but Jake' (campaign) going through the use of
outside money -- but none of the candidates has to take the hit for waging a
negative campaign -- it does set up the incumbent to be ... a sitting
duck," said Stearns, who predicted that downtown interests who have a stake
in the Richmond District may do just that.
Everyone has their theories about how ranked-choice voting is going to affect
this fall's elections, but they all include the disclaimer that no one can
predict how it will work the first time around.
"As a person who works year in and year out with campaigns, I couldn't
figure out what the impact would be," Stearns said. "Although, I must
say that not having to campaign in December will make my family happy."