San Francisco Examiner
Instant runoff system
By Nick Driver
December 13, 2001
The City's election process was roundly criticized
again Wednesday, one day after the lowest ever voter turnout left
precinct polling places looking like morgues.
time, however, the much-maligned elections department was spared
condemnation, and the focus was on the abysmally low turnout rather
than finger-pointing over missing ballots.
Two absentee ballots
were handed to the Department of Public Health containing a "coarse,
white powder," according to elections' chief Tammy Haygood.
results were widely expected to come back negative, adding another
statistic to the stream of hoax anthrax letters received across the
country in the past few months.
Aside from the possible health
scare, the biggest abomination was the lowest turnout in any
election, just 15 percent of all registered voters. Poll workers
spent most of Tuesday twiddling their thumbs, and ballot counters
were easily able to handle the 69,000 ballots cast, Haygood reported
The previous lowest turnout was in June 1993,
when 20 percent showed up to vote. But the 15 percent in Tuesday's
election has driven city officials and democracy proponents to
Most blame the 1980s advent of runoffs, even while
praising the idea of forcing politicians to gain a majority, not
just a plurality of the vote.
"These December turnouts are always
low -- last December the turnout was 50 percent of the November
election," said Steven Hill, a spokesman for reformist group the
Center for Voting and Democracy.
"But this year it dropped through
the floor," he said.
Elections reformers and budget hawks have
teamed to propose an instant runoff voting system that would save an
estimated $1.6 million per election. Hill says Tuesday's runoff cost
The City $28 per voter, "a sum that would bankrupt San Francisco if
it was that much every election."
Supervisors Mark Leno and Tony
Hall have sponsored a March proposition that would get rid of all
runoff elections by allowing computer software to calculate runoffs
as soon as the initial results are known. The simple change would
require about $100,000 from The City.
Voters would pick their top,
second and third candidates for office, similar to the way baseball
writers pick baseball's Most Valuable Player each year. At present,
voters are allowed to choose only one candidate.
taxpayers, there are significant savings, but for the Department of
Elections, it is even better: their jobs would be become easier
because they wouldn't have to run two elections every year," said
Nick Driver at [email protected]