Earlier this year, the Board of Supervisors wrestled with changing the way the city elects mayors, district representatives and other officials. Two proposals would give San Francisco voters a choice: expand the instant – runoff voting system, in use since 2004, or return to a general election with a possible later top two runoff. On Feb. 14, the Board of Supervisors tabled Supervisor Mark Farrell’s proposal to repeal ranked-choice voting on a 6-5 vote. At the same meeting, Supervisor David Campos’ measure to amend the system was sent back to the Rules Committee on a unanimous vote. On March 6, Farrell introduced a modified proposal that would abolish ranked-choice voting in all citywide races, except for district supervisors. Both measures could see a vote on the November 2012 ballot. Why does this matter? Opponents of ranked-choice say the relatively novel approach still confuses voters. Opponents of the two-election approach say it wastes money.
Experts disagree about the numerous strategic political merits of each system. But the method used to decide city races could affect the tenor of campaigns and timing of elections, as well as voter turnout. A voter-approved ballot measure in March 2002 brought the city ranked choice voting. Ballots allow voters to select up to three candidates in order of preference. An immediate “runoff” occurs, eliminating candidates with the fewest votes and redistributing the voter’s next choices until one office-seeker passes 50 percent.
Previously, candidates in November elections needed a majority to win, but races with three or more candidates often precluded the “50 percent plus one” requirement. So the top two would enter a December runoff. The problem there was that turnout typically dropped 30 percent from the month before.