APAs in S. F.: Rank the Vote!

By Phil Ting & Brian Cheu
Published November 15th 2005 in asianweek.com

Voters in San Francisco will use ranked-choice voting (RCV) to elect candidates to the Board of Supervisors this year and most other citywide races in 2005 and 2006. This new voting system has the potential to increase the electoral participation of Asian Pacific Americans — but only if voters take the time to properly learn how RCV works. Don’t forget that Mabel Teng lost her supervisor race by only 37 votes while over 200 of her votes were disqualified because voters incorrectly filled out their ballots.

The purpose of RCV is to eliminate the need for a possible runoff election in the absence of a majority result. Instead of normally choosing one candidate, voters will rank their top three candidates in first, second and third places. There will not be a runoff election in December because voters will have already expressed their first, second and third choices in the November election.

How To Vote Correctly Using RCV

For the Nov. 2 election, San Franciscans will use RCV to elect their representatives to the Board of Supervisors. RCV will not be used in the school board or Community College board elections. It will also not be used for statewide or national races, such as the presidential election.

RCV ballots will show three side-by-side columns listing the names of all the candidates in each column. Use the far left column to indicate your first choice by completing the arrow pointing to that candidate’s name; your second choice will be in the middle column, and your third choice in the far right column.

You do not have to vote in all three columns, but it is recommended that you use all three of your choices for three different candidates. Your ballot will be counted whether you mark one, two or all three choices. However, if you vote for the same candidate in all three columns, your second and third choices will not be counted.

Mark only one name per column or your vote may be disqualified.

You can vote for qualified write-in candidates by writing the name in only one column and completing the arrow next to the name.

How The Votes Are Counted

After the polls close, all ballots (in-person, absentee and provisional) will be tallied by computer.

First, only the first-choice votes will be counted. If any candidate has more than 50 percent of the vote, that person is elected. If no candidate receives a majority of the first-choice vote, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and the votes are recounted.

Voters who chose the eliminated candidate as their first choice will have their second-choice votes added to the remaining candidates, and the votes will be counted again. If no candidate receives a majority of the votes in the second round of counting, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. This process continues until one candidate receives a majority.

How RCV Impacts Asian Pacific American Voters

A study by Steven Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy found a decline in voter turnout among minority communities in runoffs — that will be eliminated.

RCV may also increase the number of APA candidates and encourage coalition building and teamwork. Since voters can choose three different candidates, RCV will help minority communities by preventing a split in votes for their own competing candidates.

An example is the District 4 supervisor race in 2002. With five APA candidates running for the same seat, the APA vote was split. With RCV, APA voters would have been able to rank three different APA candidates and pool their votes — but only if they ranked three choices!

Voter Education Important for RCV

RCV can increase the electoral participation of Asian Pacific Americans in San Francisco but only if we rank three candidates.

In conjunction with the city Department of Elections, nonprofits like the Asian Law Caucus and Chinese for Affirmative Action are holding educational presentations until Oct. 30 on RCV in English and in Chinese for organizations and groups interested in learning more about our new voting process.

For more information on RCV, visit the Department of Elections website at www.sfgov.org/site/election_index.asp and click on the “ranked-choice voting” option. To request a presentation, call the Asian Law Caucus at (415) 896-1701 or e-mail info@rankedchoicevote.org.