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September 21, 2011



Elections Commission Meeting

Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 6:00 pm

City Hall Room 408


Order of Business

1.      Call to Order & Roll Call – 6:00 p.m.



Present: President Richard Matthews, Vice President Winnie Yu, Commissioner Gerard Gleason, Commissioner Arnold Townsend, Commissioner Rosabella Safont, and Commissioner Jill Rowe. Commissioner Catalina Ruiz Healy arrived at 6:05 p.m.

Also Present: Deputy City Attorney Mollie Lee and Director of Elections John Arntz


2.      Announcements: None


3.  Public comment on any issue within the Elections Commission’s general jurisdiction not included in any other item on this agenda:


Public Speaker Jim Soper of the Voters Right Task of the Eastbay and San Francisco chapters.   Commended Director Arntz on a job well done with the Departments posting data   he encourages any resolution which will get information data out sooner.  He said that by anyway that is feasible to have detailed precinct data reported not just Rank Choice Voting (RCV) but all candidates’ votes by precinct.  Mr. Soper stated he has been in contact with the Secretary of State and that a pilot project has been started to get all detailed reports on the candidates available to the public as soon as possible that allows the public to be able to have information on the website. 


     4.    Director’s Report

The Director will update the Commission on matters pertaining to elections and the Department of Elections, including updates on activities of the divisions, plans and activities for upcoming elections or election-related functions, and budgetary matters.


Voter’s Guide - Director Arntz said the Voter’s Guide is now online.

Overseas ballots are currently in the mail.

Vote by Mail (VBM) ballots have been printed and are scheduled to be mailed by October 11, 2011 as required.

Polling places have nearly all been located and the poll workers assigned.

Preventative maintenance on the equipment has been completed and testing should begin in October.

The department is still waiting on the auto touch screens to be completed so that we can install. The upgraded Agilis Ballot Processing Machine which verifies the bar codes will be available next week and the department will begin training.

The Department has already begun its transition to the new management system’s new registration database.

Rank Choice Voting pamphlets have been mailed to every household which explains the method using the smiley face as its mascot. The mascot will be appearing on billboards, polling places, buses and other places.

Outreach: the department has scheduled approximately 134 events, with no plans for any additional events at this time.

The department is in the process recruiting for the elections review panels as it has for previous elections.

Observers guide is nearly complete.

Open house is scheduled for September 27, 2011 between the hours of 3-5pm.

Community Benefits District election for West Portal was held September 27, 2011.

Fillmore Community District election has been extended to October 18 2011.


      5.  Commissioners’ Reports
Commissioners will report on any meetings with public officials, or oversight and observation activities since the last meeting.

      Commissioner Gleason asked for data about where the ballots would be coming from in addition to precincts, early voting, and VBM; for example, hospital voting.

      Public speaker David Curry commends Director Arntz on a job well done regarding preparations on risk audits and improvements made.


Old Business


6.      Discussion and possible action to adopt policy related to the release of voting data in ranked-choice voting contests after elections, including the timing of releases and format of data. This topic was referred to the Budget and Oversight of Public Elections Committee and discussed at the Commission’s August 17, 2011 meeting. (Commissioner Gleason) (Attachment: Draft Policy on Release of Results in Ranked-Choice Voting Contests)




      Vote taken and was unanimous to adopt the new policy as amended. See attached for formal policy on release of data for RCV contests.

New Business

     7.   Discussion and possible action to request a Waiver Allowing City Employees to Assist the Department of Elections with the November 8, 2011 Consolidated General Election, per San Francisco Charter Section 13.104.5. (Attachment: Memorandum from Director to Commission dated September 7, 2011)

Vote taken and was unanimous to approve the request for the waiver.


8.   Discussion and possible action to approve the Election Plan for the November 8, 2011

Consolidated General Election, per San Francisco Charter Section 13.103.5.

Vote taken and was unanimous to approve Elections Plan.


9.  Discussion and possible action to approve the Minutes of the August 17, 2011 Commission


Votes taken and was unanimous to approve Minutes



10.   Discussion regarding items for future agendas.



Adjournment 6:30










Policy on the Release of Results of Ranked Choice Voting Contests

As Adopted By the San Francisco Elections Commission, September 21, 2011


Factual Background and Findings

1.      Transparency in the administration of elections requires that the disclosure of vote counts be made public as soon as reasonably practicable after the close of polls.



2.      Ranked-choice voting (“RCV”) is a system of voting in which voters are permitted to list, in order, a certain number of candidates if more than two people are running for the same office. In San Francisco, this method applies to elected officers for the City and County of San Francisco. Ranked-choice voting is treated in Section 13.102 of the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco.




3.      RCV tabulation has no effect until all valid ballots which were cast in the election are tabulated – including vote-by-mail ballots, precinct-cast ballots, and provisional ballots that are declared valid.  In San Francisco, RCV tabulation is done on an ongoing basis as ballots are tabulated and processed, with results subject to change until the universe of all ballots to be counted is closed. Because the order in which candidates are eliminated determines exactly which second-choice (and, if necessary, third-choice) preferences get distributed to different candidates, any results published before the universe of ballots is closed are subject to change. This is true of any election under any method of balloting, of course: nothing is final until all ballots that were cast have been adjudicated and counted. It should be expected that vote counts and candidate placements will fluctuate until 100% of all valid ballots are counted.




4.      In RCV contests, if no candidate receives first-choice votes totaling of 50% + 1 of all ballots cast, then the candidate with the fewest first-choice preferences is eliminated, and that candidate’s ballots are redistributed to the second-choice candidate listed on that voter’s ballot, if any is chosen. If that first redistribution still does not produce a candidate with a majority of ballots still viable, then this process of eliminating the lowest vote-holder and redistributing those ballots to the highest-ranked viable candidate on those ballots continues until a majority-holder is produced. This process is referred to as “the algorithm,” the computational process by which a computer system reads, counts, and sorts the data files (called “ballot images”) which are produced when an optical scanner reads a RCV ballot. The winner of the contest is the candidate with at least 50% + 1 of all continuing (non-exhausted) ballots determined by the application of the RCV algorithm.*




5.      RCV elections can only be determined by first counting 100% of all valid ballots cast, and preliminary vote counts of only the first choice selections may not provide an accurate context of the eventual results. An example of this is the 2010 election for mayor of Oakland, California; there, the candidate who was in third place after the first choices were counted went on to be the eventual winner once the RCV algorithm was applied to all valid ballots.  Therefore, the Elections Commission finds that the earliest possible application of the RCV algorithm and the release of those preliminary results as quickly as possible provides important context for preliminary vote count releases, especially for the first few rounds of released preliminary results.




6.      With the RCV voting system currently used by San Francisco, second and third choices are captured in separate components of the existing vote tabulation devices when a marked ballot is scanned. Thus while all first-choice preferences are quickly ascertainable on election night as with other non-RCV contests for ballots counted before or on election day, the downloading, algorithm application, and reporting of the second and third choices is not as readily nor quickly accomplished.  The Elections Commission finds that it is not practical for the Department to process these separate components on election night following an exhausting and mission critical workday that, for many people, already exceeds 18 hours.




7.      Because the Department of Elections obtains the second and third choice data sets for RCV elections from separate components of the tabulation devices than the first choices, and because the Department of Elections has numerous important tasks and obligations after the close of polls on election day (including gathering and accounting for elections materials from polling stations, transmitting election vote counts to the California Secretary of State, etc.), the Department of Elections will need a certain amount of time to apply the preliminary RCV algorithm to the vote count.  While the Department of Elections had adopted an informal practice of applying the preliminary RCV algorithm some 69 hours after the first release of vote counts since November 2004, the Director of Elections has advised the Elections Commission of the feasibility of and his intention to apply the first iteration of the RCV algorithm the day after election day and release the results and ballot images no later than 4:00 p.m. the day following election day, barring exigent circumstances that might hinder that.




8.      The “ballot image,” the data file produced by the scanning of each individual ballot that links any first, second, and third choice preferences and permits the specific redistribution of each ballot to subsidiary choices if a ballot’s higher-ranked candidate is eliminated, is a digital file that many researchers and observers wish to download and tabulate with their own RCV-counting software.  The Elections Commission finds this to be a valid form of public observation of elections and a potentially useful check on the operation of the counting equipment and software provided by the Department’s vendor. The Elections Commission further finds that according to the Director of Elections, the posting of these digital files poses no significant difficulty, and indeed the Department intends to post them on the internet on a daily basis along with the daily updates of the ranked-choice results, as it has done in the past.  The Elections Commission finds that the posting of these ballot images on a daily basis along with the RCV updates is an important element of transparency.



9.      Often, the formatting of election results, even preliminary ones or counts in progress, will use boldface font for the candidate currently in first place. The Elections Commission finds that there is some reason to believe this forms a public impression that the current leader is somehow in first place in something more than a preliminary manner. This impression can then lead to confusion and suspicion if that candidate is later overtaken by a candidate who ranked lower at an earlier part of the process. The Elections Commission does not necessarily believe that this is a large problem, but that it is greater than zero and worth changing if possible.


NOW THEREFORE IT IS ADOPTED AS POLICY FOR ELECTIONS IN THE CITY AND COUNTY OF SAN FRANCISCO  by the Elections Commission pursuant to Section 13.103.5 of the Charter of the City and County of San Francisco,

That the Department of Elections shall apply the RCV algorithm as early as possible following election day and that vote counts with preliminary RCV algorithm as well as the ballot images be released as soon as possible, ordinarily expected to be the day after election day unless the Director finds exigent circumstances that prevent that and communicates those facts to the Elections Commission, and


That the Department of Elections shall update the RCV counts and accompanying ballot images as regularly as possible, ordinarily expected each afternoon unless the Director finds exigent circumstances that prevent that and communicates those facts to the Elections Commission, and


That the Department of Elections shall work with its vendor for election systems and software as well as operations under its own control to use best efforts to ensure that the formatting of preliminary results does not unduly reinforce a candidate’s current ranking until the entire vote count is complete and the results are final.


























Last updated: 4/1/2014 2:56:16 PM