Thursday, November 4, 2004

SF: New voting method breaks down

By Suzanne Herel, San Francisco Chronicle, November 4, 2004


The computer software designed to tabulate the results of San Francisco's first election using ranked-choice voting malfunctioned Wednesday, and the outcome of contested races for district supervisor likely won't be available for at least two weeks, said Elections Director John Arntz.


But trouble arose at 1 p.m. Wednesday, Arntz said, when election workers began to merge the first, second and third choices of voters and run a computer program that sequentially eliminates low vote-getters and redistributes their votes based on voters' second and third choices until one candidate receives a majority of the remaining votes.

Arntz said the numbers didn't add up. "We compared the numbers we had to first-choice results, and it wasn't matching," he said after a press conference at which he had planned to release more complete results of the ranked-choice voting contests.

Arntz said that he didn't want to release incomplete results and that the department was awaiting troubleshooters from Election Systems and Software, the Omaha, Neb., firm that sold the city the computer equipment. The system premiered in this year's board races, and it is scheduled to be used in citywide elections for local offices, the next one being the election of city attorney in 2005.

By state law, Arntz said, his department has until Nov. 30 to certify the results of this election, and he couldn't say whether results would be ready before then.

The new system has undergone federal and state testing as well as pre- election tests in which its accuracy was examined. "Every step of the way, this system has worked properly," Arntz said, acknowledging that he was blindsided by Wednesday's glitch.

Arntz stressed that no votes had been lost and that each ballot cast had a paper trail. And he has enough confidence that the system will be fixed soon that he isn't contemplating a handcount. "This is a surprise, but I don't think it's going to be something that stops RCV (ranked-choice voting) for this election."

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