San Francisco Board of Supervisors breaks ranks on voting system

Getty Images file photoCompeting systems: Voters approved the ranked-choice system with Proposition A in 2002

Progressive members of the Board of Supervisors are considering ways to derail a proposal to eliminate San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting system.

As Tuesday’s deadline approaches for supervisors to submit proposed charter amendments for the June ballot, City Hall insiders say Supervisor David Campos is considering a measure to compete with Supervisor Mark Farrell’s plan to eliminate ranked-choice voting and revert back to runoff elections.

Campos declined to discuss his thoughts Friday, but confirmed that he is thinking about such a measure.

Meanwhile, fellow progressive Supervisor John Avalos said he hopes to deprive Farrell’s measure of the six board votes needed to place it on the June ballot.

“I think it might be best to make sure that it doesn’t go forward,” Avalos said.

Farrell introduced his measure on Election Day, saying, “Almost a decade later, massive numbers of San Franciscans continue to be confused about our voting process in The City.”

Voters approved the ranked-choice system, in which voters select their top three choices in elections, with the passage of Proposition A in March 2002.  

Under the ranked-choice system, if a candidate receives 50 percent of voters’ first-choice votes, that person wins. But if no candidate receives a majority of first-place votes, the candidate who received the fewest first-place votes is eliminated and the second-choice votes of that candidate’s supporters are then redistributed. The elimination of candidates and redistribution of votes continues until one candidate picks up a majority of votes.

Supervisor Scott Wiener said last month’s mayoral race, in which 10 well-known politicians vied for The City’s top post, made it clear that ranked-choice voting isn’t the best system for San Francisco.

“The problem is the lack of clarity,” he said.

Wiener said he supports Farrell’s measure, but would prefer to change the timing of elections. Instead of reverting to a November election with a December runoff, he prefers a mid-September election with a November runoff between the two top vote-getters.

Avalos, who came in second against Mayor Ed Lee in the mayoral race this November, said he remains supportive of the ranked-choice system.

“It’s a voting process that is democratic, has a history of high participation — especially when compared to voter turnouts for runoff elections — and saves money by preventing costly runoff elections,” he said.

Mayoral race follies to inspire public campaign financing fixes

The Ethics Commission is set to pitch proposed changes for San Francisco’s rules on giving out public campaign money to candidates.

Today, commissioners will discuss the lessons of the November election, including what can be learned from the $4.7 million in public money awarded to nine mayoral candidates. Five of those candidates — who received $2.3 million of those funds — each received less than 5 percent of the first-choice votes cast, according to an Ethics
Commission staff analysis.

Recommendations from the commission’s staff include increasing the amount of privately raised funds that candidates must attain to qualify for public financing, changing the formula for matching private funds with public money and possibly addressing the issue of so-called “zombie candidates” — people who remain in the race despite little chance of winning because the existing rules require that they pay back all of the public money they have already spent.

Ethics Commission Executive Director John St. Croix said the cap on public financing also will be examined, based on a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on a similar system in Arizona. The court ruled in that case that using the amount of third-party spending as a trigger to give other candidates more taxpayer funding violates the First Amendment.

St. Croix said commissioners will consider two basic options — whether to suggest a “hard cap” on all campaign spending or whether to allow only private fundraising beyond a set amount. If commissioners decide on a hard cap, they will likely want to raise The City’s current public financing cap of $900,000 per candidate.

“The ceiling needs to be high enough to be attractive to candidates, but low enough to keep the level of public financing down,” St. Croix said.

The proposed rules changes would have to be approved by eight of the 11 members of the Board of Supervisors.

– Dan Schreiber

Cash for candidates

Funds distributed last election:

$8.1M: Amount of public financing originally expected to be awarded in mayoral race

$4.7M: Amount actually awarded to nine candidates

$900,000: Current cap on public financing for mayoral candidates, barring more spending by any one candidate

Source: San Francisco Ethics Commission

Bay Area NewsDavid CamposGovernment & PoliticsJohn AvalosLocalPolitics

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