San Francisco Examiner
December 4, 2002

As simple as 1, 2, 3, right?
Of The Examiner Staff

Supervisors on Tuesday took a first stab at educating the electorate about instant runoff voting, which by law must be used in the November 2003 election.

At the Board of Supervisors Rules Committee, Caleb Kleppner, of the Center for Voting and Democracy, gave a simple explanation under the direction of Chairman Tony Hall.

ìThe votersí job will be your first choice, second choice and third choice,î Kleppner said.

Under IRV, voters would rank three candidates in order of preference. If no candidate garners a majority of first-place votes, candidates with low vote totals would be successively knocked out of the race and the voters whose first-place candidates were eliminated would have their second and third choices tallied instead.

Proposition A, passed by the voters in March 2001, requires instant runoffs, or IRV as the system also is known, for all major city races by November 2003.

Though instant-runoff advocates say the principles are simple, city leaders and voting experts say it will take hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of dollars to educate voters about the system before the November 2003 election.

ìThis is really going to depend on letting people know what we are doing,î said Hall.

Kleppner laid out a rough education plan that includes a mailing to all voters, graphic representations, a strong ballot design, an explanation in the voterís handbook, advertising and community outreach.

Election Systems & Software, which provides The Cityís voting machinery, hopes to implement the system, although other vendors are lobbying for the potential contract.

IRV would eliminate the cost of runoff elections, but wonít come cheap.

Steven Hill, also of the Center for Voting and Democracy, estimated a minimum of $1 million for system upgrades. The current vendor, meanwhile, is pushing a complete switch to touch-screen voting, which might make The City eligible for federal funds. With clear competition, though, Election Systems is not pressing its luck.

ìWeíre going to support whatever direction the Department of Elections wants to head in,î Joseph Taggard, of Elections Systems, told The Examiner.

Taggard told the supervisors that the company could be ready to provide a plan to the Secretary of State, who must certify the technology, by May with the hope of completing the project by Sept. 1.