Supervisors propose end to ranked-choice voting

November 9, 2011 5:08:30 PM PST
As voters head to the polls to choose the next mayor, there is a move to end ranked-choice voting in San Francisco elections. A resolution was introduced Tuesday calling for a return to the old-fashioned run-offs. Supervisors Seal Elsbernd and Mark Farrell introduced the resolution.

Ranked-choice voting was approved by San Francisco voters more than eight years ago, and since then it has generated quite a bit of controversy and confusion.

ABC7 talk to voters outside City Hall on Election Day to explain how the system works.

"My wife tried to explain it to me," said voter Richard Rice. "One ear out the other."

"I'd have to be a physicist probably to tell you how it works," said voter Shelley Bell.

"The person who gets the highest No. 1 votes -- however many second choice votes they get has a different and lower weight, and so forth," said voter Linda Harrington. "So each of the categories of votes has a different weight."

"So many people don't understand how it works,"

Plain and simple, that's why Farrell is proposing a charter amendment to end ranked-choice voting in the city. In this system, if a candidate receives a majority of first choice votes, he wins. If not, the last place candidate is eliminated and those who chose that candidate have their votes transferred to their second choice. That process is repeated until a candidate gets more than 50 percent.

Farrell says last November's Oakland mayor's race is a perverse outcome of the voting system. Jean Quan ultimately beat presumed frontrunner State Sen. Don Perata, even though he had a plurality with the most No. 1 votes.

"When somebody is elected mayor with less than 25 percent of the first place votes, people really look at that and say something's wrong," said Farrell. "This doesn't work."

Proponents of the system argue that it gives voters more choices, saves taxpayer money because there's no runoff election, and elects someone who truly ends up with a majority of those who voted.

Gautam Dutta specializes in election law. He says ranked-choice voting encourages candidates to be nicer to their opponents.

"It forces candidates to focus more on the issues and focus more on reaching out to the broadest possible group of people," said Dutta.

Farrell believes it's made no difference..

"Look at this year's mayors race in San Francisco," he said. "Tell me there hasn't been negative campaigning. That's all it's been this last month."

The resolution goes before the rules committee for a hearing. This is the first truly competitive election for mayor in which ranked-choice voting may make a difference.

In 2007, Gavin Newsom won re-election for mayor with more than 70 percent of the votes, so there was no reason to count the second and third choices.

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