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Election Watch

June 9, 2003

The latest news about implementation of Ranked Choice (Instant Runoff Voting

Ranked Choice Voting Progress

The implementation of Ranked Choice Voting in San Francisco made a major move forward last week when the Cityĺ─˘s voting equipment vendor, Election Systems and Software (ES&S), submitted to the California Secretary of State its 102 page application for certification of the upgraded voting equipment needed to efficiently count ballots this November. ES&S simultaneously submitted its proposed voting equipment changes to the appropriate federal testing authorities, and they say they are on track for having the voting equipment ready for the November 2003 election.

Itĺ─˘s now up to the Dept. of Elections to clarify just what approach it prefers ĺ─ý using the upgraded equipment or their ĺ─˙partial hand countĺ─¨ ĺ─ý and for Secretary of State Kevin Shelley and his Elections Division staff to move along the testing and approval of San Franciscoĺ─˘s election procedures.

A key S.F. Board of Supervisors committee last Wednesday unanimously approved the two funding ordinances needed to implement Ranked Choice Voting. After hearing from the League of Women Voters, labor union representatives, and more than two dozen members of the community, the Boardĺ─˘s Finance Committee voted to recommend for the full Boardĺ─˘s immediate approval of $526,000 for voter education and outreach, and $1.6 million for upgrading voting equipment. That one-time implementation cost is significantly less than the approximately $4 million or more that it costs to run a second, mid-December runoff election year after year. Taxpayer savings will be in the millions every year.

Finance Committee Chair Aaron Peskin pledged to ĺ─˙do what it takes to carry out the will of the votersĺ─¨ and, along with Committee members Gerardo Sandoval and Jake McGoldrick, ensured that the funding ordinances included substantial resources for voter education this fall. While trimming the original Public Education Plan significantly, the Committee took the recommendation of the Center for Voting and Democracy and ensured that at least $100,000 will be dedicated to direct voter contact by community organizations that are best equipped to reach low-voter turnout neighborhoods.

Latest Action By Opponents of Ranked Choice Voting

The most powerful political consulting firm in San Francisco ĺ─ý Barnes, Mosher, Whitehurst & Lauter (BMWL) ĺ─ý has been hired to oppose the implementation of Ranked Choice Voting this November. Over the last few months, BMWL Consulting has been organizing efforts across the city designed to pressure Secretary of State Kevin Shelley into halting RCV implementation and to feed reporters and members of the media misleading arguments against RCV.

Opponents of Ranked Choice Voting sowed a lot of confusion recently by spreading misinformation about the Department of Electionĺ─˘s proposed ĺ─˙partial hand count.ĺ─¨ This was a proposal submitted to the Secretary of State as a BACKUP plan in case the voting equipment was not ready on time. Not only should the equipment be ready, but even a partial hand count would give us election results faster and for fewer tax dollars than a second election in December. The Center for Voting and Democracy has prepared a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) about this ĺ─˙partial hand countĺ─¨ plan that clarifies much of the disinformation. You can read it at:

In response to unsubstantiated accusations by a law firm with close ties to Mayor Willie Brown that Ranked Choice Voting might somehow disempower communities of color, the Center for Voting and Democracy recently conducted an analysis of the impacts of RCV on minority voters and candidates. Among other things, the analysis found that people of color again and again have effectively used RCV and elected more candidates of their choice than under non-RCV systems.

From a voting rights perspective, the most telling fact is that the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999 exerted its authority under the Voting Rights Act to ensure that New York City maintained a RCV system for its local school board elections. The Department of Justice acted because Asian Americans, Latinos and African Americans all had significant electoral success with the system. RCV also was an essential part of the election of Ann Arbor, Michiganĺ─˘s first-ever African American Mayor. The full analysis can be found at:

Inside the Elections Commission and Department of Elections

o Dept. of Elections Director Arntz announced that he had recently responded in writing to all questions from Secretary of State Shelley about the cityĺ─˘s proposed Ranked Choice Voting implementation procedures and that Shelleyĺ─˘s office would be sending staff to conduct a test of the cityĺ─˘s proposed procedures on June 10th.

o The Elections Commission last week voted to reject Commissioner Richard Shadoianĺ─˘s proposal to tighten voter fraud procedures and Commissioner Brenda Stowersĺ─˘ proposal for improved fiscal accountability, with Commissioner Stowers voting against her own proposal.

o On May 28th, the San Francisco Civil Grand Jury released the findings of its review of the Dept. of Electionsĺ─˘ performance in the November and December 2002 elections. Entitled ĺ─˙Improving the Infrastructure of Democracy,ĺ─¨ the 19 members of the Civil Grand Jury recommended a series of organizational and systemic changes to improve future city elections and directed both the Elections Commission and Dept. of Elections to respond to its findings within 60 days. The full review can be found at  

Mark Your Calendar

On Tuesday, June 10th the full Board of Supervisors will consider the two key funding proposals needed to implement Ranked Choice Voting. Please call Supervisors Sophie Maxwell (554-7670) and Fiona Ma (554-7460) and urge them to vote for the Ranked Choice Voting implementation ordinances.

On Wednesday, June 18th at 7:00 pm the S.F. Elections Commission will hold a Public Hearing on the implementation of the RCV Public Education Plan. This will be a prime opportunity for interested organizations to shape the voter education program. 7:00 pm in Room 400 at City Hall. Please come and be heard.

SF Election Watch is a project of the Center for Voting and Democracy For more information contact Jon Golinger at (415) 531-8585 or or visit

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