in New Ballots"
by Jo Stanley
September 27, 2004
As the fall election draws near and ranked-choice voting is set
to take place in seven districts for the first time, The City is
stepping up efforts to teach voters about the method that allows
them to choose a second or third candidate in case their first pick
"The big emphasis is on marking the ballot," explains
Charlie MacNulty of the Elections Department. A veteran of 15
voter-education sessions himself, he said -- and a small army of
fellow voter educators point out -- that the ballots use the same
pen-marking system as in previous years but now include three
vertical columns that repeat the candidates' names for the 1-2-3
He said a frequent question is whether voting three times for the
same candidate would help him or her. "There's no bullet
vote," he responds.
Part of the process, particularly with elderly voters who've been
voting a long time and with people who speak another language, is to
actually hold a sample ballot and try it out. "This isn't
scary," MacNulty said, "it's new."
Ads on the back of Muni Railway buses are set to start appearing
on Oct. 4, and the classes to explain the new method are being
offered at City Hall and around town by both city employees and
members of 10 community groups The City has hired.
The campaign also includes a citywide mailing to voters, an
interactive voting demonstration on the Elections Department Web
site, and broadcasting ads and printed materials in many different
Although attendance at the City Hall training sessions has
dropped off since they began in May, Elections Department employee
Arturo Cosenza says he spoke to a crowd of 200 at a nursing home
He said skeptics often ask why this is happening. "You have
to remind them that this is something the voters of San Francisco
passed," he said. "Most people have been waiting for
He and colleague Nicole Douglas agreed that some people get
confused about how the votes will be counted if no one candidate
wins a majority. The computer system is set up to eliminate the
lowest vote-getters, and then recalculate the tally based on the
other choices of those people's supporters, until someone crosses
the 50 percent mark.
Keith Kamasugi, who's been leading education sessions as a
consultant for the Asian Law Caucus, said he finds that to be the
most complicated topic to explain to the audience. "I see eyes
start glazing over," he commented, adding that he's explored
ways of simplifying the message by using clear visual aids.
For more information or to request a presentation in English call
(415) 554-4375. For Spanish, call (415) 554-4366, for Cantonese or
Mandarin (415) 554-4367. Or check out the department's Web site at www.sfgov.org/election/rcv.
- Do I have to mark all three columns?
- No, but by marking all three you record your first, second,
and third preferences. Then if your first pick is eliminated,
your vote transfers to your next choice.
- Can I mark the same candidate's name in all three columns?
- Yes, but doing so doesn't increase the number of votes that he
or she gets. There's no "bullet" vote.
- Why is the ballot being changed?
- In March 2002, voters approved Proposition A, adopting the
ranked choice method to avoid a second runoff election if no one
candidate wins a majority of votes.
- Is instant runoff voting the same as ranked choice voting (RCV)?
- Yes, election officials started using the term RCV to avoid
the impression that all results would be computed instantly on