Top finisher in San Francisco mayor's race trails due to ranked voting

Top finisher in San Francisco mayor's race trails due to ranked voting
© London Breed
London Breed won more votes than any other candidate in Tuesday’s race to become San Francisco’s next mayor, but the city’s unusual way of electing its leaders means Breed now trails her second-place rival.
 
Since 2004, San Francisco voters have cast ranked-choice ballots, designating a favorite candidate, a second choice and a third choice. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, the lowest vote-getter is removed, and votes for that candidate are redistributed to the remaining candidates based on voters’ second choice. The process is repeated until one contender receives more than half the vote.
 
The system had never been used in an open mayor’s race, until this year, when voters picked a replacement for the late Mayor Ed Lee, who died in 2017.
 
Supporters of ranked-choice voting say it saves money by eliminating the need for runoff elections. San Francisco estimates a city-wide runoff would cost local government about $3.7 million. 
 
It may also inspire candidates to be nicer to each other — former state Sen. Mark Leno (D), who leads Tuesday’s election by a narrow margin, struck a deal with San Francisco Supervisor Jane Kim in which they asked their voters to pick each other as their second-place option.
 
“When you’re vying for the second choice votes of other candidates, you have an incentive to be more collaborative and civil to each other,” said Pedro Hernandez, deputy director of FairVote California, a group that backs ranked-choice voting.
 
That deal between Leno and Kim paid off. Breed, the president of the county Board of Supervisors, received about 36 percent of the first-choice votes, compared with 26 percent for Leno and 23 percent for Kim. 
 
After nine rounds of tallying, in which candidates with fewer votes were eliminated, Leno held a tiny lead of about 1,100 votes over Breed. Kim’s voters ranked Leno higher than Breed by more than a three-to-one margin, according to the city’s elections bureau.
 
Breed’s chances aren’t dead yet. The San Francisco Department of Elections said it has about 90,000 ballots left to count. In a statement posted on Facebook, Breed said the race is still too close to call.
 
“We likely will not know the result for several days but I will be sure to keep you updated as we learn more,” Breed wrote to supporters.
 
Cities in eight states use ranked-choice voting to elect local officials. This year, Maine will become the first state to nominate both statewide and federal candidates through ranked-choice voting. Six states, mostly in the South, use ranked-choice voting for members of the military and overseas voters.
 
Hernandez said ranked-choice voting also means that more voters get a final say in the electoral process. Before implementing the ranked-choice system, San Francisco’s runoff elections typically attracted much smaller electorates than the initial round. But under the ranked-choice system, nearly 90 percent of the 156,000 voters who cast a ballot included either Breed or Leno among their top three choices.
 
“Asking voters to come out twice, it’s a lot of work,” Hernandez said. “People wanted elections to be more substantive. They wanted less negative campaigning, and they wanted to maximize turnout.”