The city that is home to the crookedest street in the world is this fall witnessing what surely could be the zaniest election in America. There are 16 people running for mayor and hardly a gadfly in the bunch. The field includes the current appointed mayor, two county supervisors, a state senator, the public defender, the city attorney, the assessor-recorder and three former supervisors.
Each is eligible for up to $900,000 in public financing, so none will be starved for campaign funds. Even those who find themselves dropping in the polls will be able to keep battling through Election Day.
When voters receive their ballots, they will have not one, not two, not even just 16 choices to make. Rather, under the instant-runoff voting system that is being used for the first time in a San Francisco mayoral election, they will have 3,360 distinct ways they could fill out their ballot.
“It’s what we call the chaos theory,” says San Francisco pollster Ben Tulchin, whose firm is working with the campaign of Sen. Leland Yee.
Tulchin believes it’s possible the mayoral outcome could resemble that of a bizarre, 21-candidate race for San Francisco supervisor two years ago in which the winner, Malia Cohen, finished fourth in the first round of voting but won the contest in the 19th round of redistributed votes.
“She had 12 percent of the vote after the first round — and she won,” Tulchin noted. “That’s how diabolical ranked-choice voting is.”
Pollsters and political consultants generally shudder at the mention of “instant runoff voting,” but it has in recent years become a celebrated cause of election reformers, who promote it as a way to reinvigorate American democracy by expanding voter choices and diminishing the influence of the two major parties.