Ranked Choice Voting (RCV)
comes to San Francisco
In November 2004, San Francisco voters will elect seven seats on
the Board of Supervisors using ranked choice voting (RCV, also known as ranked
choice voting). Proposition A,
passed by San Francisco voters in March 2002, enacted ranked choice voting for
all local offices, including mayor, district attorney, city attorney, treasurer,
sheriff, public defender, and assessor (but not including school board and
college board elections, which are governed by state law).
With a change to the electoral process like
this, prospective candidates, political activists and insiders all want to know
ĺ─˙how does RCV work?ĺ─¨ And more specifically, ĺ─˙whatĺ─˘s in it for me and my
constituency?ĺ─¨ There has been much speculation about who gets hurt and who
gets helped by this change.
First, letĺ─˘s review some of the basics about
WORKS: RCV allows voters to
rank their candidates, 1, 2, 3, and uses the rankings to run a series of runoffs
to determine the candidate who is supported by a majority of voters. A majority
is defined as 50% of the vote, plus 1 more vote; so in an election with 100
voters, a majority would be 51 voters. Every
voter has one vote, which they always give to their highest ranked candidate who
is still in the race.
When a voter walks into a polling site or
opens her absentee ballot, sheĺ─˘ll look at a ballot that looks very much like
the current Optech Eagle ballot, except it will say, ĺ─˙Ranked Choice Voting:
Vote for a different candidate for each choice, or your second or third choices
may not count.ĺ─¨ Then the voter will see three columns labeled ĺ─˙First
Choice,ĺ─¨ ĺ─˙Second Choice,ĺ─¨ and ĺ─˙Third Choice.ĺ─¨ In each column,
you will fill in the arrow next to the candidate you have selected for each
choice. If you make a mistake on your ballot -- i.e. skip a ranking, vote
for the same candidate twice, overvote, undervote, etc. -- the Optech Eagle is
designed to alert you to the mistake, and give you a chance to fix it. To see an
approximate version of what the ballot will look like, visit www.fairvote.org/sf/ballots.htm
(you can also give us feedback on the ballot design, to make sure we have one
that is as user-friendly as possible).
Ballots Are Counted: Following
is a written explanation, but at the end of the explanation are links to a Flash
animation and a flow chart SHOWING how the ballots are counted. Usually seeing
it is better than reading about it, so we encourage you to check out those
To start, only the first-place rankings are
counted. If a candidate has a
majority of these first-place rankings, she or he is elected (just like San
Francisco always has done, when one candidate has a majority of votes in the
November election). But if no candidate has a majority of first-place rankings,
then the ĺ─˙instant runoffĺ─¨ begins.
The candidate with the LEAST number of
first-place rankings is eliminated from the runoff.
Voters whose candidate has just been eliminated, instead of wasting their
vote on a candidate who could not win, now can give their vote to their runoff
choice -- their second choice, as indicated by their ranked ballot.
These ballots are added to the totals of continuing candidates.
Now if one candidate has a majority of votes (which in this case would be
their original first-place rankings added to the runoff rankings from those
voters of the eliminated candidate) that candidate is elected.
If still no candidate has a majority at this point, another last-place
candidate is eliminated, and voters supporting that candidate give their ballot
to their next-ranked candidate. The
vote counting proceeds in rounds, in essence a SERIES of runoffs, until a
candidate has a majority of the vote.
You can view a flash animation of how the RCV
ballot counting will occur by visiting this link:
You can also view a flow chart showing this at www.fairvote.org/irv/flow.pdf
VOTING EQUIPMENT: San
Francisco will use the same voting equipment that it has used since 2000, an
ĺ─˙optical scanĺ─¨ system (i.e. NOT touchscreens) with a fully voter-verified
paper trail (your paper ballot). The
ballot scanning in the precincts will be done by the Optech Eagles, and absentee
ballots by the central scanner, the Optech IV-C, both of which are manufactured
and designed by Election Systems and Software (ES&S). The RCV-ready
equipment has been put through rigorous federal and state testing of hardware,
software, firmware, and procedures. The
equipment has been certified by the Secretary of State.
The optical scan voting equipment
comes with what is known as "error notification." If a voter makes a
mistake on her or his ballot (such as skipping a ranking),
the equipment immediately will notify the voter of their mistake and the voter
will have an opportunity to correct it before casting their final ballot. That
feature will help to decrease the number of errors and spoiled ballots.
The optical scan equipment takes all the
rankings of each individual voter and stores them as anonymous records that,
when compiled together, form an aggregate dataset about votersĺ─˘ preferences.
After the polls close, that data set is loaded into a computer, and when the
Director of Elections gives the word, the tech person presses the ĺ─˙Tally IRV
resultsĺ─¨ button, and the ballots will be quickly sorted and counted. A
complete election report containing round-by-round vote totals will be produced.
The actual counting of the aggregate data set (which is comprised of tens
of thousands of stored ballot images of every individual's ballot) happens
extremely quickly -- for a citywide race, perhaps five minutes, for a district
race only a minute or two.
Because we can hand-tally the paper ballots
(the voter verified paper trail) and create a one-to-one correspondence between
each physical paper ballot and an electronic record of each ranking, the RCV
election will have an unprecedented level of transparency, security and
Compiled by Steven Hill, Center for Voting and
Democracy, (415) 665-5044, SHill@fairvote.org.