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SF Supervisors Stall Plans To Amend Ranked-Choice Voting

SAN FRANCISCO (KCBS) – Neither of two dueling proposals to change San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system will go on the June ballot, the city’s Board of Supervisors decided Tuesday.

San Francisco’s current system, approved by voters in 2002 and put into effect in 2004, allows voters to rank up to three candidates for each elected office. Those with the lowest vote totals are eliminated and their second- and third-place votes are reassigned until someone has a majority of the votes.

A charter amendment proposed by Supervisors Sean Elsbernd and Mark Farrell sought to scuttle ranked-choice voting and replace it with a primary and runoff system, while another measure proposed by Supervisors David Campos and John Avalos sought to make minor tweaks to the current system.

Neither proposal will go in front of the city’s voters in this June’s election though — supervisors voted Tuesday afternoon to table the runoff system proposal and send the other one back to committee for further analysis.

KCBS’ Barbara Taylor Reports:

Campos had sought to delay a vote on his proposal, which included more voter education on ranked-choice voting and the consolidation of the city’s odd-year elections into a single year, saying it would be better served to go on the November ballot after more analysis was done on its potential effects.

Elsbernd accused him of pushing for the delay because ranked-choice advocates thought the lower turnout in a June election might not favor their proposal, and said enough analysis had been done on the issue.

“This has been in front of us for the last 10 years,” he said. “I’m not sure what more we need to discuss.”

The board eventually agreed to send Campos and Avalos’ proposal back to committee, but not before narrowly voting 6-5 to table the runoff system proposal, in effect killing it, Farrell said.

“It’s a shame we didn’t send this to the ballot to let voters decide,” he said.

Farrell and Elsbernd were among supervisors who had argued that the current system is too confusing to voters, and that it leads to too many candidates that were hard to differentiate from each other.

Campos disagreed, saying “The system we have in place is a system that works … instead of throwing it out, we need to make it better.”

He said when his proposal goes back to a board committee for further discussion, he would consider incorporating any additional ideas from other supervisors, such as one from Jane Kim, who proposed having runoffs just for mayoral elections but not for other elected offices.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco and Bay City News Service. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

More from Barbara Taylor
  • TheFuture1776

    First Elsbernd and Farrell proposed going back to December runoffs but found out that’s really unpopular because when SF last used December elections no one liked them (elections in December?), turnout was low and it was expensive. So then they morphed their proposal into — September primary elections. But having another election in September is also a terrible idea. If the Elsbernd-Farrell amendment already had been passed and we were using a September primary election in 2012, that means San Francisco voters would be marching to the polls three times in five months! Once in June (for state and federal primaries), then again in September (for local primaries) and a third time in November. Three elections in five months will only burn out voters. It’s just a ridiculous, poorly thought out idea!

    In fact, I did some quick research around the web for voter turnout in other cities that use September primaries, and just as I expected you see extremely low voter turnout in September — even lower than the December runoffs previously used in San Francisco!

    New York City. 2009 September primary election, turnout rate of only 11.4%! 2010 September primary for state attorney general race, turnout only 12.5%.

    Charlotte, North Carolina (population 750,000, similar to San Francisco) 2009 mayoral primary in Sept — only 4.3% turnout! 2007 mayoral primary — turnout of only 4.9%!

    Boston (population 620,000), primary for mayoral race in Sept 2009, turnout of 22.9%. Primary held in September 2008, voter turnout was 14.0%

    Interestingly, it appears that Seattle and many cities in Minnesota have switched from September to August primaries due to problems with September. Two cities in MN, St. Paul and Minneapolis, got rid of their Sept primaries and switched to ranked choice voting!

    So it seems to me going to a Sept primary would be a clear step backward. SF should keep what we have.

  • Reader

    The commenter above Cherry Picks her information. For example – the New York Mayor’s Race had Bloomberg in his Third Term (so popular they “added” a term) – so of course turnout would be low.

    Comparing SF to Charlotte, or Boston is like comparing Apples to Toast. You can always find data to fit your opinion.

    Voters have found RCV to be confusing – even the turnout in Chinatown was lower in this election than when Newsom and Gonzales ran. Gonzales actually got about 40% more votes that our current Mayor – and Gonz lost!

  • SF Revives Push To Ditch Ranked Choice Voting « CBS San Francisco

    […] that system eliminates the need for costly runoff elections that typically result in low turnout. A competing proposal to keep, or even expand, ranked choice voting has been […]

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