vote gets fanciful scenarios
Analyst predicts a change in the political culture
By Suzanne Herel
of San Francisco's political scene predict some unusual behavior to
accompany the introduction of ranked-choice voting in November -- like
candidates for the same supervisorial seat co-hosting community events,
and even sharing fund-raisers.
"There will be a change in the political culture," Steven Hill,
senior analyst for the Center on Voting and Democracy, said during a
recent presentation explaining ranked-choice voting.
The newfangled system was mandated by city voters two years ago and is to
be used for the first time Nov. 2, when seven seats on the 11-member Board
of Supervisors will be up for election. Supervisors are chosen by district
Ranked-choice voting -- also called instant runoff voting -- will allow
voters to list their first, second and third choices for supervisor. (At
least five candidates have filed to run in each district in November.)
When the votes are tallied, voters' first choices will be counted first.
If a candidate garners more than 50 percent of the vote, he or she will be
declared the winner.
But if no one gets more than 50 percent -- which is more likely -- the
process will continue.
The candidate who receives the least number of first-place votes will be
thrown out of contention. Ballots that had the losing candidate marked as
a first choice will then be examined for the voters' second choice. Those
votes will be calculated into the mix of remaining candidates, with the
last-place contender in that round eliminated.
The process would continue until a candidate wins more than 50 percent of
Proponents say the system does away with costly runoffs and allows voters
to choose a lesser-known candidate in the early round without throwing
away their vote.
Hill said the new system may alter the way candidates campaign, because
they'll need to please more people. They'll still want their staunch
supporters, but they'll also want their opponents' supporters, who may be
willing to vote for them as a second or third choice.
"They're going to have to learn to build coalitions more than they're
used to," Hill said. "Candidates are appearing at each other's
functions. ... Democratic clubs who are usually at each other's throats
are having conversations. If you start slinging mud, it could really
When groups are considering endorsements, they may decide to offer slates
of candidates in hopes that at least one of them will win, Hill said.
Alex Clemens, president of Barbary Coast Consulting, said ranked-choice
voting is bound to affect elections on a district-by-district basis.
"For a race with a strong incumbent with only a couple lesser-known
challengers, ranked-choice voting will not have much of an impact,"
he said. "But in a race like District 5, where dozens of candidates
are attempting to differentiate themselves, ranked-choice voting's
strengths and weaknesses will be in full view."
In that district, where at least 30 people have filed an intention to run
for the seat being left open by the departure of board President Matt
Gonzalez, voters could return more than 27,000 combinations of three
names, Clemens has calculated.
Robert Haaland, considered by many as a lead candidate for the District 5
seat, and Michael O'Connor, who also is running for it, have decided to
informally endorse each other. On Aug. 26, they'll co-host a fund-raiser
at O'Connor's club, the Independent, and share the proceeds.
O'Connor acknowledged that he doesn't have the Democratic Party allegiance
that Haaland has, and said he wanted to throw his support behind a
candidate he agreed with.
Although O'Connor said the move wasn't strictly strategic, but rather in
the spirit of collaboration that grew out of caring for District 5, it
fits neatly into the theory held by Jim Stearns, of Stearns Consulting.
He's working on the re-election campaigns of supervisors Aaron Peskin,
Jake McGoldrick and Tom Ammiano.
"It's very important for the strategy of a candidate to know who is
going to come in last and who is going to come in first and second,"
Stearns said. "In D5 it's likely that Robert Haaland and Ross
Mirkarimi will come in at one or two."
Assuming Haaland and Mirkarimi would come in at the top, it's in their
best interest to campaign for the votes of the candidates expected to
lose, he said.
In races where the incumbent has a strong challenger -- such as in
District 1, where retired Superior Court Judge Lillian Sing already is
raking in campaign donations to take on McGoldrick -- ranked-choice voting
could work against the incumbent, Stearns said.
"If you could get an 'anybody but Jake' (campaign) going through the
use of outside money -- but none of the candidates has to take the hit for
waging a negative campaign -- it does set up the incumbent to be ... a
sitting duck," said Stearns, who predicted that downtown interests
who have a stake in the Richmond District may do just that.
Everyone has their theories about how ranked-choice voting is going to
affect this fall's elections, but they all include the disclaimer that no
one can predict how it will work the first time around.
"As a person who works year in and year out with campaigns, I
couldn't figure out what the impact would be," Stearns said.
"Although, I must say that not having to campaign in December will
make my family happy."