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SF’s political future to be decided by handful of voters

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Community Tenants Association members gather on Montgomery Street in San Francisco’s Chinatown on Tuesday, October 13, 2015, in support of District 3 Supervisor candidate Aaron Peskin. (Mike Koozmin/S.F. Examiner)

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The old refrain “voting doesn’t matter” is total malarkey this election, at least if you live in District 3. When the votes are counted Nov. 3, a handful of residents of Chinatown, North Beach and Fisherman’s Wharf may decide the political future of San Francisco.

And voter turnout is expected to shrink this year from last year.

If you follow some back of the napkin math, The City’s political fate may be decided by as few as 400 people — and that’s absolutely bonkers, considering everything at stake now in San Francisco.

With such a small number of people determining our future, it’s no wonder that to walk through Chinatown and North Beach is to have one’s eyeballs assailed from all sides by seas of campaign signs.

“Julie Christensen! Gets things done,” or “We need Aaron! Leading the fight for an affordable city,” blanket these neighborhoods, which comprise the bulk of District 3, where each candidate is vying for a seat on the Board of Supervisors.

As much as the District 3 race is about who will get Joe DiMaggio Playground renovated the fastest, and other neighborhood concerns, there are much bigger stakes at play.

The 11­-member Board of Supervisors is locked in a 6­-5 split on controversial issues: Boosting police staffing, tighter controls on Airbnb and restricting park hours to curb sleeping in parks, were among many issues lately decided by the turn of a single vote.

A Peskin win would swing the balance of votes back to the progressive Democrats, putting the board in (some) opposition to the mayor.

Distressingly, the number of San Franciscans who will decide that future may be tiny. Astonishingly tiny.

Diving into District 3 electoral history, 23,470 people voted in the 2012 supervisor race.

It was also a presidential election year, which tends to turns out more voters than usual.

In 2004, another presidential year, when Aaron Peskin ran for supervisor, 25,771 District 3 residents voted, and in 2000, the first year he ran, 24,860 in District 3 voted for supervisor.

Peskin won by wide margins, but that likely won’t be the case now. Both Christensen and Peskin are neck­-and­-neck, raising outrageous amounts of money, and in organizing.

Other factors are at play, as well.

Corey Cook, a former University of San Francisco professor who specializes in analyzing election results and politics, told On Guard that lower turnout usually means a more politically moderate vote. But, low voter turnout also swings “anti-development” he said, which may benefit Peskin due to his ties to the No Wall on the Waterfront campaign.

In other words, even the particular advantages of each candidate may end up penciling out.

Perhaps a better analogy for the current D3 slugfest is the last state assembly race. David Campos and David Chiu’s campaigns were both well funded (though Campos was ultimately outspent), both had thorough street coverage, and both had recognizable names.

Let’s have fun with numbers.

In that race, Chiu netted 63,041 votes, and Campos netted 60,416 a difference of only 2,625 votes. So 2.1 percent of those who voted for either candidate decided the race — in Chiu’s favor.

If we use the same percentage for the District 3 race, the number of those voting for San Francisco’s political future are slender indeed. Turnout is also expected to be lower than last year.

Though more than 30,000 in District 3 are registered to vote, let’s assume only 21,000 in District 3 vote next month. Using the same ratio of deciding votes in the Assembly race, as few as 400 ballots may decide the outcome between Christensen and Peskin.

A city of 837,000, perhaps steered by a vote of 400.

At a time when San Francisco’s politics are reshaping our city — shifting the fate of our housing market, our major industries, and our city’s character — our future may be decided by a sliver of our city’s population.

For both sides, that means one thing. Every vote counts — a hell of a lot more than usual.

On Guard prints the news and raises hell each week. Email him at joe@sfexaminer.com.

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