Early voting for the Nov. 8 election began in typical fashion Tuesday with mayoral hopefuls casting ballots on the ground floor of City Hall. As expected, the obligatory entourage of supporters and members of the press snapped photos as the candidates voted for themselves.
But this year, there was a slight difference. The City’s ranked-choice voting system had candidates voting not just for themselves, but two of their opponents in the first-ever San Francisco mayoral race where that might actually matter. Under the ranked-choice system, voters rank their three top picks in a race.
While Mayor Ed Lee, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu and venture capitalist Joanna Rees said they indeed each voted for two other candidates, they all declined to name whom they listed as their second and third choices for the office.
Upon leaving the official polling area, Lee took the opportunity to express his concerns about The City’s voting system.
“I want to take another look at this ranked-choice voting,” Lee said, adding that The City needs to “at least” do a better job educating voters about how it works.
Lee said he has heard “lingering questions” about whether second and third choices somehow dilute the first-place votes. “A lot of people are saying they still don’t know what happens to their vote,” Lee said.
Designed to avoid long and costly runoff elections, San Francisco voters approved the electoral system in 2002. It has been used in subsequent elections for the Board of Supervisors, but this is the first time ranked choice is expected to determine the outcome of the mayoral race. Under ranked choice, if the candidate with the most first-choice votes doesn’t receive a majority after the first round of counting, the lowest-performing candidate drops off the bottom of the list and the second-place votes on his or her ballots go to the rightful candidate. The rounds of counting continue until one candidate gets a majority.
So if a leading candidate were worried about losing in an upset spurred by ranked-choice voting, it might behoove him or her to choose second and third candidates with little chance to win. But maybe not, said veteran political consultant Jim Ross.
“Voting strategically under ranked-choice voting doesn’t work,” Ross said. “Really, if you’re a politician voting, what might make the most sense is voting for yourself and leaving the other two blank.”