New York Times
Easy as 1, 2, 3? San Franciscans Will Rank Candidates for 'Instant
March 19, 2002
By Associated Press
This has become the first major American
city to adopt an instant runoff system for nearly all municipal
races, allowing voters to rank candidates as their first, second and
The preferences would be used to pick a winner if no
candidate for a city office got more than 50 percent of the vote.
That would eliminate the need for voters to return to the polls
weeks later to choose between the top two vote-getters who have
advanced to the runoff.
The instant runoff was approved by 56
percent of city voters in a March 5 referendum. It is not certain
that the system will be in place by the November elections,
officials said, because new computer software must be installed.
Opponents have criticized instant runoffs as undemocratic and
confusing. Proponents have said it will open the political process
to more outsiders and save money, because runoffs cost taxpayers
about $1.6 million each.
"It will benefit the city in terms of the
millions of dollars it will save and also the wear and tear on the
Department of Elections," said Mark Leno, a member of the city Board
of Supervisors. "It will encourage greater voter participation."
Turnout in runoffs in San Francisco has been distressingly low,
some officials say, because those races are held shortly before
Chris Bowman, a Republican political consultant and
former member of the San Francisco citizens advisory committee on
elections, said the instant runoff violated the one-person-one-vote
The concept has been used for decades in Australia and
Ireland. London recently elected its mayor using the system, and
Cambridge, Mass., has been electing City Council members through
instant runoffs since 1941. Alaska will have an instant- runoff
referendum on the ballot this fall.
The San Francisco system will
differ from the one in Cambridge, where voters pick from a slate of
candidates to fill multiple slots, a method that makes it possible
to win with only 10 percent of the vote.
In San Francisco, the
process will be used for most major city offices, including mayor,
treasurer, district attorney, public defender and members of the
Board of Supervisors.
Under the system, the candidate with the
fewest votes is eliminated, and the second choices of voters who
selected that candidate are added to the tallies of the remaining
candidates. If this does not create a winner, the process is
repeated until someone gets a majority. (If a voter's first and
second choices are eliminated, his third choice is applied to the
Among the most prominent supporters of the
referendum were minor parties, particularly the Green Party, which
say the instant runoff could benefit them because voters could
choose both their candidate and a major-party candidate.