Ranked-choice voting shapes San Francisco district attorney race 

When it comes to picking a district attorney, San Francisco’s ranked-choice voting is shaping the strategy of the three candidates vying to be The City’s top prosecutor.

Ranked-choice voting allows people to pick their top three candidates for mayor, sheriff, district attorney, supervisor and other elected positions. If the top choice doesn’t get a majority of the votes, then the second- and third-place votes come into play until a candidate has a majority.

The system is meant to avoid costly runoffs, but has yet to be truly tested in a citywide election. November’s election will not only put ranked-choice voting to the test with a crowded field of mayoral candidates, it also will have an effect on the race for district attorney.

The field for The City’s top prosecutor presently contains three candidates. The current district attorney, George Gascón, is the former police chief appointed by Mayor Gavin Newsom to replace Kamala Harris in January. David Onek, a law enforcement scholar at UC Berkeley, has been campaigning for more than a year. Sharmin Bock, a longtime prosecutor in Alameda County, is a relatively new entry in the race.

Gascón is the front-runner, but there is still doubt about whether he could garner more than 50 percent of the vote.

In a ranked-choice election with one candidate in front, it’s smart for the trailing candidates to form an alliance, said political analyst and consultant David Latterman. That scenario is reminiscent of the Oakland mayoral race in which two candidates, Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan, formed an alliance to defeat the favorite, Don Perata,
Latterman said.

Neither Bock’s nor Onek’s campaign consultants said outright they would be teaming up to defeat Gascón. But with the first debate having taken place Wednesday night and the campaigns heating up, the similarities and differences are sure to be amplified.

Political consultants agreed that ranked-choice voting will play a large role in the election. Jim Stearns, Bock’s consultant, said the ranked-choice system should help Bock because she shares a lot of traits with both candidates.

She has law-and-order credentials like Gascón while she and Onek are not connected to the scandals that have plagued the San Francisco Police Department.

“It’s not just part of the strategy,” Stearns said of ranked-choice voting, “it’s the entire strategy.”

Eric Jaye, who is running Onek’s campaign, thinks ranked-choice voting will favor his candidate.

“He has a talent for building coalitions,” Jaye said.

As for Gascón, his campaign manager, Maureen Erwin, said, “Our strategy is to get as many first-place votes as possible. We’re also reaching out to everyone and getting some great endorsements.”


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