The results are in: San Francisco voters have trouble with ranked-choice elections. Despite a $300,000 educational campaign leading up to last month’s elections, including a new smiley-face mascot, publicity events, and advertising on buses and in newspapers, only one-third of voters on Nov. 8 filled out all three choices in all three races, according to an analysis released this week by the University of San Francisco.
Under the city’s system, voters were asked to rank their top three choices for mayor, sheriff and district attorney. Perhaps the analysis’ most troubling finding is that 9 percent of voters, mostly in Chinatown and southeastern neighborhoods like the Bayview, marked only one choice for each office, either because they considered only one candidate suitable or because they did not know how to fill out their ballot correctly.
“Some people just prefer to rank one,” said Corey Cook, a political science professor at the university who wrote the report with David Latterman. “But the geographic component suggests it’s more systematic.”
Although Edwin M. Lee did not receive a majority of first-place votes, he became the city’s first elected Chinese-American mayor based on the ranked-choice system, which was first used in San Francisco in 2004.
Mr. Latterman, an associate director of the Leo T. McCarthy Center for Public Service and the Common Good at U.S.F., said voters in neighborhoods with large black or Asian populations tended to vote for different candidates than residents in other parts of the city. But the Nov. 8 election was the first time researchers saw a geographic or perhaps ethnic difference in how people used ranked-choice voting.