Center for Voting and Democracy: SF Election Watch
The latest news about implementation of Ranked Choice
(Instant Runoff) Voting
Ranked Choice Voting Progress
The Secretary of State continues to conduct the required administrative
review of the SF Dept. of Elections’ "partial hand count" procedures for
counting ranked choice ballots. State Elections Division Chief John
Mott-Smith called the proposal “potentially workable” and will soon
schedule a public hearing on it. A ruling on state certification of the
City’s procedures will be issued 30 days following the public hearing.
This is all normal administrative procedure.
A “partial hand count” is similar to how ranked choice ballots are
counted in other nations, including New Zealand, Ireland, and Australia,
and also previously in Cambridge, Massachusetts. With a "partial hand
count," first rankings will be counted on election night on the Optech
Eagle machine, the way ballots always have been counted in San Francisco
on the Eagle. Those results will be posted on Election Night. If no one
has a majority of first choices, the Dept. of Elections will use a hand
scanner to finish the job. While this could take a couple of weeks to
finish and be labor-intensive, this process would give San Francisco the
most transparent and secure ballot-counting process it has ever had.
What about counting the ballots entirely with the Eagle machines?
Counting all ballots entirely with the Eagle machines is still the
preference of all parties involved and the voting equipment vendor, ES&S,
is continuing work to retrofit the Eagles in time for use on Election Day.
But there may not be enough time for this election to receive required
certification for changes in voting equipment hardware and software. So
for this election we may need a one-time solution, and then the Eagles
will be ready for all future elections.
It is important to note: The difficulty in meeting these
timelines is not because the job of upgrading the Eagles is too hard, but
because the Dept. of Elections lost a good eight months of crucial time
over the “Tammy Haygood Affair.” Proposition A was passed on March 5, 2002
but, unfortunately, Haygood did not begin immediately implementing
Proposition A and she was eventually fired by the Elections Commission.
The first meetings with new Elections Director John Arntz about Ranked
Choice Voting did not occur until August 2002. The first decision by
Director Arntz giving direction to the vendor ES&S did not occur until
October 2002. The first contract negotiations and actual work for
implementation did not occur until January 2003. By that time, the
Department had lost nearly a full year for RCV implementation.
Nevertheless, the vendor, ES&S, says they will be able to meet their
deadlines and facilitate a smooth election.
Board of Supervisors President Matt Gonzalez has introduced a budget
appropriation of $1.6 million for upgrading the Eagles to handle Ranked
Choice Voting. The negotiated contract, which is close to being signed,
has benchmarks in it in case the vendor, ES&S, is unable to meet the tight
timeline. The Board has begun to consider the funding proposal for the
implementation of Ranked Choice Voting and on Wednesday, June 4, the
Board’s Finance Committee will consider this and another key funding
proposal to implement Ranked Choice Voting. The meeting will take place at
12:30 pm in Room 263 at City Hall. Please attend.
Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval introduced a $2.5 million budget
appropriation for the Department of Elections’ proposed Community
Education Plan for Ranked Choice Voting. That budget appropriation also
will be considered by the Board’s Finance Committee on June 4. The Dept.
of Elections has made public the details of its ambitious plan to carry
out RCV Voter Education, which is required by the City Charter. The price
tag for this plan may be higher than is possible to get funded in these
difficult budget times. Consequently, an independent analysis of the plan
by the Center for Voting and Democracy, along with recommendations for
what should be prioritized in case the plan has to be scaled back, was
presented to Director Arntz and the Elections Commission on May 21. For a
copy of the independent analysis please email
Latest Action by Opponents of Ranked Choice Voting
The San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner recently reported on a “legal
challenge” to Ranked Choice Voting. What they were reporting on was not a
legal challenge or lawsuit, but a letter sent to the Secretary of State by
the Sacramento law firm Remcho, Johansen & Purcell, whose attorneys have
represented Mayor Willie Brown and other prominent politicians on election
matters. This letter is part of the public comment that anyone can make to
the Secretary of State as part of its certification process of the
procedures and equipment to be used for Ranked Choice Voting.
In the letter, the Sacramento firm claimed to represent “several
minority voters” in San Francisco. The letter claimed that RCV will
"disenfranchise a disproportionate number of minority voters and diminish
their ability to participate in San Francisco's electoral process." It
also claimed that "San Francisco has presented no contingency plans should
that cash-strapped city fail to come up with the additional $2.3 million
needed to fund the full manual count," and that "San Francisco's current
proposal bears no resemblance to the system proposed to the voters as
Proposition A." While this is not a legal challenge per se, some have
claimed that this is the basis for a lawsuit that will be filed soon.
According to several voting rights attorneys, if these are the best legal
arguments they have to repeal RCV, which was passed by 55% of all San
Francisco voters - and more than 60% of African-American and Latino voters
- they will lose badly in court. Certainly all evidence from other nations
and American cities suggests that people of color will have more voting
power with RCV than with December runoffs. And opponents may end up paying
court fees and perhaps legal damages.
Inside the Elections Commission and Department of Elections
The Commission has elected Alix Rosenthal as its new president.
Rosenthal, who was appointed to serve on the Commission until January 2006
by ex-Public Defender Kimiko Burton, pledged to implement Ranked Choice
Voting and create greater transparency of the Elections Department.
This month, the Commission also welcomed its newest member, Reverend
Arnold Townsend, Assistant Pastor of Bread of Life Community Church.
Appointed by Mayor Brown, Rev. Townsend made his first official act a
request to schedule a public hearing on the Dept. of Elections’ draft
Ranked Choice Voting Public Outreach Plan.
On May 21, the Elections Commission voted to appoint John Arntz as the
permanent director of the Department of Elections for a five-year term.
Arntz had been serving as the acting director since last year.
Following last year’s redistricting, the Dept. of Elections staff
recently completed a re-precincting of the City’s voter map and are
proposing to consolidate the current 643 precincts into 562 precincts.
Mark Your Calendar
On Wednesday, June 4, the Board of Supervisors Finance Committee will
consider the two key funding proposals to implement Ranked Choice Voting.
The meeting will take place at 12:30 pm in Room 263 at City Hall. Please
come and show your support.
On Wednesday, June 18, the Elections Commission will hold a public
hearing on the Ranked Choice Voting Public Education Plan proposed by the
Dept. of Elections. This will be a prime opportunity for interested
organizations and members of the community to shape the final plan. 7:00
pm in Room 400 at City Hall. Come and be heard.
SF Election Watch is a project of the Center for Voting and Democracy.
For more information contact Jon Golinger at (415) 531-8585 or