SAN FRANCISCO — This city's novel voting experiment hit an unexpected snag Wednesday when a software glitch prevented elections officials from tallying outcomes in Board of Supervisors races.
The city is the first in the nation to use "ranked choice voting" since a brief experiment in Michigan three decades ago.
The system allows voters to rank their top three candidates in order of preference. If no one wins 50% of the votes when first choices are tallied, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. The second choice of those voters is then added to the remaining candidates' tallies. The process continues until a majority winner emerges.
Now, however, it could be as late as the end of the month before that happens, Elections Director John Arntz said.
First-choice results released Tuesday night showed incumbents winning or leading in six races and a strong contender ahead in the only wide-open seat. But when elections officials on Wednesday prepared to run the rounds of elimination and re-tallying to ultimately disclose the victor, the system faltered.
Though all had gone smoothly in test runs, the software created by vendor ES&S was not properly adding data from absentee and provisional ballots to the main tally, Arntz said. Technicians were traveling to San Francisco to troubleshoot the system.
"It's a setback," said Steven Hill, whose organization -- the Center for Voting and Democracy -- was the chief proponent of the system, better known as "instant runoff voting." "I'm disappointed. But eventually, we'll count the ballots."
The delays threw a wrench into an experiment that had already drawn criticism.
Proponents say the method gets rid of costly runoffs, gives voters more say and encourages participation from minor candidates. It has also led to unprecedented collaboration in the races as candidates competed for the second- and third-choice endorsements of their colleagues.
"I've praised [ranked choice voting] for helping to midwife the civility in the race," said Ross Mirkarimi, the front-runner among 22 candidates seeking to replace the outgoing Board of Supervisors president.
But critics fear that voters do not properly understand it or will choose to vote for only one candidate -- essentially disenfranchising themselves if that candidate is eliminated.
There were other surprises in San Francisco's election. Though Mayor Gavin Newsom enjoys an 80% approval rating -- boosted in part by his support for same-sex marriage -- key ballot initiatives that he had promoted failed.
Among them was a $200-million housing bond issue that would have gone in part to build housing with supportive services, such as drug treatment for the homeless. It was seen as crucial to Newsom's plan to combat homelessness.
The measure fell just shy of the two-thirds vote needed to pass, though thousands of absentee and provisional ballots remained to be counted. But Newsom expressed more concern over the rejection of two temporary tax increases that he had said were essential to solving the city's record $307-million budget shortfall.
As a result, he said he would release details today on "hundreds" of layoffs and planned consolidations of city departments and agencies.
A measure that would have allowed noncitizens with children in public school to vote in school board elections also failed.
In Berkeley, an effort to make prostitution the Police Department's lowest priority was soundly defeated.
And measures in Butte, San Luis Obispo and Humboldt counties that would have banned genetically modified organisms lost by solid margins. A similar measure in Marin County, however, won handily.