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

San Francisco's Ranked Choice Ballot

May 2004 (revised October 2004)

Thanks to the many folks who provided valuable input on ballot design, we have been able to significantly improve the San Francisco ballot.  This illustrates the most important rule of ballot design:  get lots of public input.

To see the impact of your input, compare the following 4 ballots developed by the San Francisco Department of Elections:

  1. October 2001:  The Department original ballot design
  2. March 2003:  The wraparound ballot submitted to the VSP
  3. May 2004:  The current sample ballot, which we are continuing to work to improve.
  4. Oct 2004:  The official 2004 ranked choice ballot that voter used.  See page 7 of the ballot, and note the 22 candidates in the RCV election.  Also, note that the actual ballots had color tinting that highlighted the 3 columns with dark, medium and light boxes containing large, white numbers to indicate 1st, 2nd and 3rd choices.  This tinting is visible on the sample ballot.

For reference, we strongly promoted the idea of a side-by-side ballot and provided 3 different examples along with a report of your comments:

  1. Our first side-by-side ballot
  2. Our second side-by-side ballot
  3. The Design for Democracy Project's bilingual side-by-side version.


When the California Voting Systems Panel (VSP) approved the use of the ES&S equipment for San Francisco's November 2004 election, it directed the city and the vendor to try to develop a more user-friendly ballot.  The Center for Voting and Democracy supported these efforts by gathering input from San Francisco voters and concerned citizens about the ballot format that they find easiest to use.

May 17:  We received over 80 comments on ballot formats, and the consensus is clear:  respondents overwhelmingly prefer a side-by-side format, so we developed a second side-by-side format to gather further input:

We also sought you feedback on the text and format of the instructions to the voters, which will appear in English, Spanish and Chinese:

For comparison, you can look at an actual sample ballot from the March 2004 primary election (1.8MB file), as well as the Department's original wrap-around ballot.

After reviewing the possible IRV ballots, please send us responses to the following questions, along with any additional comments you wish to make about the IRV ballots:

  1. Which side-by-side version (#1 or #2) do you prefer?
  2. How can you preferred version be improved?
  3. How can we improve the wording and text formatting of the instructions to voters?

Please send us your responses, along with any additional comments you wish, by email or fax::

  • Email
  • Fax:  301-270-4133

We have compiled a preliminary CVD report on ballot design along with an appendix of comments received as of May 18, 2004.

Please note that the basic ballot format for the Elections Systems and Software (ES&S) Optech Eagle is fairly limited and not especially voter friendly:  the ballot has 3 columns of candidates and races and voters complete arrows to the right of their candidates.  

top of page

Copyright 2004     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave, Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]