March 20, 2003
The new instant runoff voting
system planned for San Francisco's November election will run
smoother than critics are warning, backers of the effort said at a
City Hall rally Wednesday.
"Voters just need to know 'first choice, second
choice, third choice,' and that's not a problem," said Caleb
Kleppner of The Center for Voting and Democracy.
"It's a mandate of the voters, and it's got to be
put through," Supervisor Jake McGoldrick told the 70 or so people at
the rally. "All the baloney you hear about how difficult this is
going to be is just that, baloney."
The election system, also known as ranked choice
voting, will allow voters to name their three top choices for mayor,
district attorney and sheriff in the Nov. 4 election. If no one gets
more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest
first-place votes is dropped from the list, the second-choice
candidates on those ballots are moved to the top spot and the
ballots are recounted. That process continues until someone has a
majority of the vote.
Measure A, passed last year, called for instant
runoff voting to replace the traditional mid-December runoff
election this year. But the city still has not signed a contract to
convert its voting machines to the new election system.
Last week, the city sent Secretary of State Kevin
Shelley a contingency plan that calls for using 500 temporary city
employees to individually count the estimated 240,000 ballots in
November. If that hand count is necessary, it could be early
December before San Francisco voters know who they elected as mayor
or district attorney, said John Arntz, the acting city elections
No one is eager to see a hand-counted election, said
"A hand count is a worst-case scenario, because it's
long and slow and a pain in the neck for everyone," he said. "But it
will still work."
City election officials have time to get their
voting machines ready, said Laura Spanjian, a spokeswoman for the
Alice B. Toklas Lesbian/Gay Democratic Club.
"The city has to work with the contractor and get
that (voting machine) contract signed in the next couple of weeks,"
Speakers at the rally called for the city to move
quickly to ensure that instant runoff voting is ready for November
and that voters know how the new system will work.
"We have to insist that there be no more delays in
the implementation of instant-runoff voting," said Esperanza Macias
of the Progressive Alliance.
Backers argue that instant runoff voting will save
the city the cost of a separate December election that often
attracts a tiny number of voters to the polls. But progressive
political groups also have suggested it will make it easier for
voters to support third party and lesser-known candidates, because
the second-choice vote can be used as a fallback.
"It's important that we have fairer, more efficient
and less expensive elections," said Joanie Levy, head of a local