[EM] San Francisco OKs Instant Runoffs
DEMOREP1 at aol.com
DEMOREP1 at aol.com
Mon Mar 18 21:27:39 PST 2002
San Francisco OKs Instant Runoffs
By MARGIE MASON
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - San Francisco has become the first major U.S. city to
adopt instant runoffs for nearly all municipal races, a move that is
encouraging fringe candidates - always a boisterous voice here - to think
they may actually have a chance on Election Day.
Currently, if no candidate for a city office gets more than 50 percent of the
vote, a runoff is held weeks or months later between the top two
The new instant system would avoid this second round of balloting by allowing
the voters to rank candidates as their first, second and third choice. Those
preferences would be used to pick a winner.
The idea won 55 percent approval from San Francisco voters on March 5.
Opponents have criticized it as undemocratic and confusing. Proponents have
said it will open the political process to more outsiders and save money,
since runoffs cost taxpayers about $1.6 million each.
``It will benefit the city in terms of the millions of dollars it will save
and also the wear and tear on the department of elections,'' said Mark Leno,
a member of the city Board of Supervisors. ``It will encourage greater voter
The concept has been used for decades in Ireland and Australia. London
recently elected its mayor using the system, and Cambridge, Mass., has been
electing City Council members through instant runoffs since 1941.
In Vermont, where the Legislature steps in and picks the winner if no one
gets a majority for governor, lieutenant governor and treasurer, 51
communities recently approved nonbinding resolutions in favor of instant
runoffs. Alaska will have a referendum on the ballot this fall.
The San Francisco system will be different from the one in Cambridge, where
voters pick from a slate of candidates to fill multiple slots - a method that
makes it possible to win with only 10 percent of the vote.
In San Francisco, the process will be used for most major city offices,
including mayor, sheriff, treasurer, district attorney, public defender and
Board of Supervisors. The counting method will kick in whenever a candidate
fails to get a majority.
Under the system, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated,
and the second choices of voters who selected this loser are added to the
tallies of the remaining candidates. If this does not create a majority
winner, the process is repeated: The third choices of voters whose first and
second choices have been eliminated are applied to the remaining candidates,
and so on, until someone gets a majority.
Chris Bowman, a Republican political consultant and former member of the San
Francisco citizens advisory committee on elections, said the process goes
against the ``one man, one vote'' principle.
``I see it as undemocratic. There may be challenges made in court,'' he said.
While Democrats have long dominated city politics, San Francisco voters also
have a soft spot for fringe candidates, giving Green Party presidential
candidate Ralph Nader half as many votes as George W. Bush in 2000.
The new system could give some lesser-known candidates a boost against
incumbents or other leading politicians.
``It's the Green Party's agenda. They believe it will give the Greens more
leverage in controlling the outcome of the elections and controlling the
government,'' Bowman said.
The Center for Voting and Democracy, a think tank in suburban Washington,
funneled $50,000 of the $70,000 raised in support of the proposition, said
Caleb Kleppner of the center's San Francisco chapter. As of Feb. 16,
opponents reported contributing $20,000. They are not required to report the
entire amount spent until July 31.
The Green Party was another big supporter, but Kleppner denied trying to
secure an advantage for any particular party. Instant runoffs, he said,
reduce campaign spending and produce better voter turnout because they
require only one trip to the polls.
The proposition also had support from California Assembly Majority Leader
Kevin Shelley, a San Francisco Democrat, as well as the Democratic Party, the
United Farm Workers, the San Francisco Labor Council and the AFL-CIO among
The city probably will not have the system in place in time for the general
election in November, because the necessary software must first be approved
and installed, said elections supervisor Tammy Haygood.
Supervisor Matt Gonzalez said voters and poll workers will have to be
educated about the setup, especially after a series of vote counting foul-ups
have shaken faith in the system. Last November, thousands of absentee ballots
were secretly moved on Election Night and several ballot box lids were found
floating in San Francisco Bay.
``Its time has come,'' said Board of Supervisors President Tom Ammiano, a
potential candidate for mayor after Willie Brown leaves office next year
because of term limits. ``It allows someone with not the biggest pocketbook
to be a player.''
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