San Francisco Chronicle
Record-low vote came at
high price: City attorney runoff cost S.F. $2 million, or $29
San Francisco's runoff for city
attorney on Tuesday produced a record- low voter turnout and cost
roughly $29 per vote.
Just one in every six registered voters stepped into a ballot booth
or mailed an absentee ballot from home -- San Francisco's worst
voting record in at least 30 years.
Still, Department of Elections
chief Tammy Haygood had to open more than 600 precincts and hire
4,000 poll workers and inspectors. She estimated that the election
cost $2 million, not including the money she owes the Sheriff's
Department for guarding ballots.
The low turnout means that Dennis
Herrera, a maritime attorney and former police commissioner, was
"swept" into the city attorney's office with about 36, 400 votes.
There are 453,961 registered voters in San Francisco.
5,100 absentee and provisional ballots to count. But those won't
change the outcome or improve the dismal voter turnout.
The odds of
motivating voters were against Herrera and opponent Jim Lazarus from
the start. Theirs was the only race on the ballot; the two similar
candidates ran lackluster campaigns until last week; and few
residents knew what the city attorney does -- even though it's the
second-most-powerful post at City Hall.
understand how this office relates to their day-to-day lives," said longtime
local pollster David Binder.
Add the holidays and a war in
Afghanistan into the mix and you've got a script for a sleeper, even
in a city that's more politically active than most.
It's not the
first time a runoff race has attracted little attention, but it
could be the last.
"I think Tuesday night spelled the end to
December runoffs," said Supervisor Mark Leno, who supports a March
ballot measure that would create instant runoffs for city offices.
Under the plan, voters would rank their top two or three
candidates. As choices are eliminated, votes would move to the top
candidates until someone receives a majority.
Advocates are using
Tuesday's election as the poster child for their cause.
makes more sense to pay for one election instead of two," said Caleb
Kleppner, project director of the Center for Voting and Democracy,
which works to increase voter participation.
Leno said the
supervisors considered moving the runoff election so candidates
wouldn't run into the December holiday blues. But holding a primary
election in the fall and a runoff in November would conflict with
Jewish holidays each fall.
San Francisco's second-lowest voter
turnout election was in June 1993. A mere 20 percent of voters
turned out to decide a quarter-cent sales tax that benefited public
This time, Lazarus was depending on high-propensity voters
-- the more conservative residents, homeowners and longtime renters
-- to help him repeat his Nov. 6 general election result as top
finisher in the contest.
But Herrera tapped a relatively new bloc
of motivated voters: the young progressives from the Mission,
Potrero Hill and Haight, who supported Supervisor Tom Ammiano's
write-in campaign for mayor in 1999 and swept a slate of like-minded
supervisors into office in 2000.
Herrera focused his last-minute
mailers on these groups, hitting Lazarus as a Reagan-era
conservative and pal of PG&E.
"For years, I've been saying low
turnout would help a Lazarus type of candidate," Binder said. "The
longtime rule of thumb was that conservative and Republican voters
contribute to a higher portion of voters in low-turnout elections.
But the last couple of elections . . . we saw it's really the more
moderates who stay at home in a low-turnout election."
welcomes changes to the runoff process to motivate more voters, as
does the next city attorney.
E-mail Ilene Lelchuk at
CHART 1: San
Francisco city attorney tally
Here are the results of the San
Francisco city attorney election on Tuesday. The Department of
Elections has 5,100 absentee and provisional ballots left to count:
36,437 52.02 percent
Ballots counted 70,244
turnout 15.47 percent
CHART 2: San Francisco
Tuesday's 15.47 percent turnout by San Francisco voters for the
city attorney runoff election was the lowest on record for at least
the past 30 years. The chart lists the percentage of voters who went
to the polls for local and special San Francisco elections during
that time, according to Department of Elections records. The chart
includes December runoff elections in previous mayoral, district
attorney and city attorney campaigns.
Source: San Francisco Department of Elections