San Francisco Examiner

Joining Forces:  New voting system fosters teamwork among challengers
By Adriel Hampton
October 12, 2004

In hotly contested supervisor races around The City, candidates are taking advantage of the new ranked-choice voting system to team up and boost their profiles.

In one of the most significant team efforts yet, District 5 Democrats Bill Barnes and Brett Wheeler announced Monday they are joining forces and plan a Web site,, to educate voters on the system.

Ranked-choice voting, also known as "instant runoff," allows voters to rank three choices, with the second and third picks counting only if the first choice candidate falls into last place. In the case of Barnes and Wheeler, if their supporters buy into the strategy and one candidate falls short, second place votes could add to the other's tally.

Ranking multiple candidates has no effect in weakening the voter's first choice, and RCV proponent Steve Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy said that means candidates don't need to demonize opponents.

"Now here you have an example where instead candidates who are of similar political background are striving to find common ground instead of attacking each other," Hill said.

Barnes' professional experience is as a City Hall insider and AIDS policymaker, first in Mayor Willie Brown's office, then as aide to Supervisor Chris Daly. He's also a 27-year-old Haight district renter, and African-American. Wheeler is a 35-year-old policy wonk and former Georgetown professor who worked for Matt Gonzalez's mayoral campaign. He's white, and owns a home in Cole Valley.

The two are banking on common progressive values and strong campaign organizations to stand out in their crowded field of 22 candidates.

Barnes said the message is simple: "We're working together; San Francisco deserves people who can."

Team play isn't unique to District 5. In District 3, three challengers are united to defeat Supervisor Aaron Peskin, while in District 1 the business community is funding an "anybody-but-the-incumbent" attack.

In District 7, challengers are also working together to bash the incumbent and widen their demographic reach.

Irish-American Democrat Mike Mallen is working on alliances with Chinese-American Isaac Wang, Republican cop Greg Corrales and Independent Christine Linnenbach to attack Supervisor Sean Elsbernd for his support of a new business tax.

"If an incumbent can be attacked on an issue that makes him vulnerable to a large majority of the voters in a district, then the entire alliance attacking together will allow all to benefit at the polls," Mallen said.