San Francisco Examiner

City's voting system tricky but successful
November 3, 2004

The City's first Ranked Choice Voting election created confusion among voters but was implemented without any serious snafus, according to voters, poll workers, and election officials.

"So far it seems like a great election, but I say that cautiously because you never know," Election Commission President Rev. Arnold Townsend said Tuesday.

Under Ranked Choice voting, only only those candidates garnering 50 percent of first choice votes are elected in the initial count, which means that races in districts 5, 7, and 11 won't be certified until later in the week.

Many voters were baffled by the system. Some voted three times for the same candidates, rendering their ballot invalid. Poll workers incorrectly informed other voters they were obligated to rank three top candidates. Actually, they could vote for only one if they chose to.

The misinformation left some Chinese voters with the impression their ballot had been "spoiled," according to Chinese American Voter Education Committee director David Lee.

"I talked to an elderly voter in Chinatown who thought he was being tricked by the poll worker into voting for the opponents," said Lee, who opposed ranked choice voting. "The man left the poll in a huff."

On Turk Street, poll worker Joseph Baribau said the system "was definitely a problem but not as much as we had expected." He said some people voted three times for the same candidate, causing the RCV-adapted "Eagle" machine to reject the ballot.

In other neighborhoods, such as politically active and well-heeled Telegraph Hill, voters seemed to know the RCV drill, according to Dawne Bernhardt, a volunteer poll observer.

"The only thing that slows them down is the length of the ballot," she said.

Darwin Bell, who was voting at the Ida B. Wells Center on Hayes Street, said he didn't know what to make of all the choices.

"It is very confusing, but if it means I'm not going to have to come back in a month, and if it saves taxpayers money, it is worth it," he said.