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Voters Registration and San Francisco Election Information

San Francisco Mayor & Other Key Races on November 2011 Ballot


Although there are no federal or California state offices or issues on the November 8, 2011 ballot, the San Francisco election is vital to the future of the city. On the ballot are a whopping 16 candidates who want to be your San Francisco mayor, five who want to be your district attorney, and four who are running for San Francisco County sheriff. And there are eight propositions to consider. So your vote is important. But before you vote in the San Francisco election, here's the voters registration and other information you'll want to know--including an explanation of the confusing ranked-choice voting system.

If you've never registered or if you've moved or changed your name, it's time to register. Voter registration forms are at the Department of Elections, Department of Motor Vehicles, public libraries and post offices in San Francisco and available online. Or you can ask that one be mailed to you.

The deadline to register to vote is Oct. 24, 2011--that is, your completed voter registration card must be received by the San Francisco Department of Elections or postmarked no later than Oct. 24.


Avoid the rush and the lines on Election Day. Starting Oct. 11, you can vote early at the Department of Elections office at City Hall, outside Room 48:
Monday-Friday, Oct. 11-Nov. 7, from 8 am-5 pm.
Saturday & Sunday, Oct. 29 and 30 and Nov. 5 and 6, from 10 am-4 pm. Use Grove Street entrance only.

VOTE BY MAIL: Request Deadline Nov. 1
You can vote in the comfort of your own home (or elsewhere besides a voting booth) if you get a ballot by mail. The quickest way to request a vote-by-mail ballot is to apply online, but you can also download an application or write a note, and fax, mail or deliver the application/note to the elections department.

The San Francisco elections department must receive your request for a vote-by-mail ballot no later than 5 pm on Nov. 1. Postmarks of Nov. 1 will not suffice.

Your vote-by-mail ballot must be received by the elections department or delivered to any polling place by 8 pm on Nov. 8. Postmarks of Nov. 8 will not be counted.

There's nothing like voting the old-fashioned way: Going to the school, church or neighbor's garage down the street, huddling in the privacy of your own voting booth and having a poll worker thank you for doing your civic duty.

The elections department has a handy online tool to tell you where you should go vote. The polls are open on Nov. 8 from 7 am until 8 pm.

It's confusing, it's led to lots of ballot errors and thus invalidated ballots, and it's been criticized for electing candidates who are not the first choice of most voters but the voters' lukewarm second or third choice (such as Jean Quan, who won Oakland's 2010 mayoral race). But ranked-choice voting is something we brought upon ourselves. Yes, San Francisco voters in 2002 approved of ranked-choice voting, which supposedly increases voter turnout and saves money because it makes a separate run-off election unnecessary.

The San Francisco November 2011 election amounts to one of the biggest operations of ranked- choice voting in the U.S. The system in which voters pick and rank their top three candidates for one office will determine the new San Francisco mayor, district attorney and sheriff. With such high stakes in a process that confounds even people with graduate degrees, the Department of Elections has lots of material that tries to explain ranked-choice voting, including a rather fast-paced video.

For each contested office, voters can pick as many as three candidates, ranking them as their first, second and third choices. Every vote for a first-choice candidate is counted. If a candidate gets a majority (more than 50%) of the first-choice designations, he or she wins the election.

If no one gets a majority, the person with the fewest first-choice votes is eliminated from the race.

If the eliminated person is your first choice, your second-choice candidate is counted instead. Then the votes are recounted, and anyone who gets a majority of the votes is the winner. If no one has a majority, then the candidate who has the lowest number of votes is axed.

This process is repeated until there emerges a candidate who has a majority of the remaining ballots--who is the winner.

Under the ranked-choice voting system, your second choice is counted only if your first-choice candidate is eliminated. Your third choice is counted only if both your first-choice and second-choice people are eliminated.

The ballot has three columns, each of which lists all of the candidates for one office. You may (but are not required to) rank up to three candidates.

In the first column: Mark your first choice--i.e., the person that you most want to win.
Second column: If your first choice can't win, mark who you would vote for next.
Third column: If neither your first nor second choices can win, who would you vote for next?


  • There's only one candidate that I like for the office; to me, there is no second- or third-choice candidate. So I'll put my one candidate as my first, second and third choices.

    Choosing the same candidate in more than one column doesn't benefit him (or her); your vote for that candidate counts only once. If your guy is eliminated, that's it for him; he can't get second- and/or third-choice votes, so selecting him also as your second and/or third choice has no effect.

    And should you vote in person, you'll be subject to special attention (or, in balloting lingo, "the confirmation process"): The voting machine will spit up your ballot and a message that it's detected an "irregular voting pattern: duplicate candidate." A poll worker will approach and remind you that only your first choice of candidates will count. So you can either start again with a new ballot, or you can insist on casting your original ballot as is, with its "invalid second and third choices."

    This "confirmation process" sounds like having your credit card rejected in a store check-out line. To avoid it, mark your one-and-only candidate in the first column, and leave the other columns blank.

  • I have two candidates that are my first-choice, so I'll pick both for the first column.

    If you mark more than one candidate per column, that column, and any columns after it, will not be counted. If you mark the first column like this, your entire ballot is invalid.

    The smarter-than-you voting machine will cough up your ballot and an "irregular voting pattern: over-voted rank" notice. The poll worker will offer you a new ballot if you want to choose one candidate only per column.

Visit or call the Department of Elections:
City Hall, Room 48
Phone: (415) 554-4375. Phone assistance is also available in Spanish, Cantonese and Mandarin.
Hours: Monday-Friday, 8 am-5 pm. On Election Day: 7 am-8 pm.

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