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San Francisco Examiner

Ranked-choice tested

Election officials give new system run-through

By J. K. Dineen

October 15, 2004

At an obscure warehouse in Mission Bay, The City's great ranked-choice voting experiment is in full swing.

On Thursday, a dozen election workers were busy testing and retesting the Election Department's 561 blue voting machines. Each one was plastered with a small sticker stating "RCV Equipped," meaning it had been reprogrammed to handle The City's new voting system, in which voters can rank their three top candidates.

As workers fed ballots into the machines, the Center for Voting and Democracy's Steven Hill -- who worked for years to put RCV voting into place -- looked on with obvious pleasure.

"I like what I see," said Hill.

As part of an annual state-mandated "Logic and Accuracy Testing," election workers have been holding mini elections. They tried to trick up the equipment with so-called "exception test decks" -- flawed ballots indicating more than one first choice or no choices at all.

"The machines have found every mistake," said election clerk Crispin Tirso, who was in charge of the tests. "We're going to make this thing work."

While the equipment may be in order, it remains to be seen whether voters will understand the ranked choice system. A total of $800,000 in city funds has been allocated to teach voters about the new system. A new education campaign on Muni buses is about to roll out.

"The big question is whether voters will know what they are doing," said Hill.

Seasonal election workers Roman Oganesian and Jeff Smith said their jobs haven't changed much under the new system: They still hand-count each ballot to make sure it is consistent with the computer's tally.

"I think it will be better," said Oganesian. "Voters will have a better chance of their vote counting."

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