CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

San Francisco Examiner

Contentious new voting system rolls ahead
By Adriel Hampton 
June 5, 2003

Plunging ahead with a plan to have a radical new voting system ready for the mayor and district attorney races, a panel of San Francisco supervisors approved $2.3 million to fund new software and voter outreach.

The City is racing against a deadline of late summer to have an instant runoff, or "ranked choice," voting method ready in time to mail out absentee ballots. There is also some pressure from interest groups that say they will sue to block the new system.

Both advocates of the ranked choice system (approved two years ago at the ballot) and opponents have been waging fierce public relations fights over the plan, which would allow voters to rank their first, second and third choices for city offices. Voters who didn't pick one of the top vote getters would have their successive choices tallied until one candidate achieved a majority of the votes.

Proponents say the system limits negative campaigns, strengthens minority voters and eliminates costly "top two" runoff elections. Foes have argued that a new method of voting will turn off minorities and that the initial cost and risk of a new system is too high.

The Elections Department had submitted a plan for a massive, time-consuming hand count process to the Secretary of State Kevin Shelley's office for certification. On Monday, city contractor Election Systems & Software presented Shelley's office with a streamlined software solution. Shelley must certify an election plan before local officials can go forward.

Wednesday, the Board of Supervisors Finance Committee recommended paying $1.6 million to ES&S, with payments subject to a series of benchmarks. Submission of a plan to Shelley by Monday was the first benchmark.

"This is a very well prescribed process and we're just following it," Joe Taggard, an ES&S sales vice president, told The Examiner.

The supervisors also approved $526,000 for voter outreach to help educate San Franciscans in the three months leading up to the election. Cutting down a more than $2 million proposal from the Elections Department, the supervisors included $100,000 to paying community organizations for outreach work.

The entire plan, which still must meet approval from a majority of the full Board of Supervisors, comes in at about $300,000 more than the mayor's office has budgeted for a traditional December runoff. Barring disaster, the system would be used for subsequent local elections and could be improved as The City upgrades to touch-screen voting in the next few years.

Public speakers Wednesday spoke mostly in favor of the new voting system.

Members of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, one of the groups asking Shelley to deny certification of the voting plan, asked for more support for teaching public housing residents how used ranked choice voting.

Supervisors and speakers criticized the San Francisco Chronicle for its repeated bashing of the plan.

E-mail: [email protected]

top of page

    The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave,  Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]