San Francisco Examiner

Suit seeks to force 1-2-3 ranked voting
By Adriel Hampton
August 12, 2003

Advocates of instant runoff elections filed suit Monday to force San Francisco to conduct its November election using the new system, which would allow voters to rank three successive candidates in the mayor, district attorney and sheriff races. A superior court judge denied the plaintiffs' request that the Department of Elections immediately begin educating voters on the method, but set an Aug. 20 hearing date for the issue.

The Department of Elections earlier this month halted preparations for using the instant runoff method, also know as ranked choice voting, in November. The electorate approved the voting method by charter reform in March 2002.

Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for the City Attorney, said it's unfortunate that The City can't implement the new system in time for the November election, but an election must go on under the old system of December runoffs.

"We're pleased the court didn't do anything to interfere with the preparations for this election," Dorsey said, responding to the Monday ruling on the plaintiffs' request for immediate action.

The Center for Voting and Democracy, Congress of California Seniors, San Francisco Labor Council, California Public Interest Research Group, Chinese Progressive Association and four individual voters brought the suit.

"The Elections Department had a year and a half to get their act together on this," said attorney Lowell Finley, who is pressing the suit.

He argues that the deadline for stopping preparations for an IRV- style election should be in mid-September and that a full hand count of ballots is legal without approval of the Secretary of State.

Doug Hill of the Secretary of State's office said the office last week got certification from federal testing authorities on a mechanical counting method but is still awaiting final certification on software.

That certification could come in two weeks, but a panel would have to review it, which could take an additional 30 days.

Steven Hill of the Center for Voting and Democracy says an outside contractor can conduct a full hand count of the ballots in three days, at a cost of about $250,000.

Electoral Reform Services, an internationally known contractor, has had contact with the Department of Elections but no formal arrangement has been made.

A December runoff, based on the cost of the citywide October recall election, could cost more than $3 million.

Arthur Chang, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, said it is difficult in some minority communities to teach voters to come back to the polls for a runoff after they have already picked a candidate. He also said that forcing working people to return to the polls multiple times hurts turnout and makes for a winner with less actual votes.

Under IRV, voters' successive choices are counted if their top candidate or candidates are eliminated due to low vote totals.

"The old system is a moneymaking system for the political consultants and the people who want to win without a majority of the vote," Chang said.