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

San Francisco Examiner

"Voters Trained 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 loses.

"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 rankings.

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 languages.

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 last week.

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 it."

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


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 election night.

top of page

Copyright 2002     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave. Suite 610, Takoma Park MD 20912
(301) 270-4616      [email protected]