Olague is the swing vote on voting system repeal

Sup. Christina Olague was appointed by Mayor Ed Lee to the vacant D5 seat earlier this year.

Conservative Sup. Mark Farrell's effort to repeal San Francisco's ranked-choice voting system for citywide elected officials is headed to the Board of Supervisors tomorrow, and all eyes are on swing vote Sup. Christina Olague. She surprised her longtime progressive allies with her early co-sponsorship of the measure when it was introduced in March, but she's now expressing doubts about the measure.

The board rejected an earlier effort by Farrell and Sup. Sean Elsbernd to repeal RCV outright, but then Farrell tried again with a measure that excludes supervisorial elections and has a primary election in September, and if nobody gets 65 percent of the vote then the two two finishers have a runoff in November.

“I'm not going to support something that calls for a runoff in September,” Olague told the Guardian, referring to the primary election, although she did echo the concerns from RCV's critics who claim that it confuses voters. She also said that it hasn't helped elect more progressives and that “some progressives I talked to aren't 100 percent behind it.”

Such talk worries Steven Hill, the activist who helped create the voter-approved system, and who has been battling to shore up support for it in the face of concerted attacks by more conservative politicians, newspaper columnists, and downtown interests, all of whom preferred the old system of low-turnout, big-money December runoff elections.

“I think it's working well. San Francisco saves a ton of money by not having two elections,” Hill said. He said downtown money will skew the runoffs elections even more in the wake of the Supreme Court's Citizen United ruling allowing unlimited political spending. “With Citizen's United,” he said, “they'll just do a ton of independent expenditures.”

He said Olague had told him she intended to withdraw her co-sponsorship of the measure, but she hadn't done so yet. Olague told us that she wanted to discuss the matter with Farrell before withdrawing her support, that she hasn't been able to reach him yet, and that she's been focused on other issues she considers more important, such as crime prevention.

The measure currently is being co-sponsored by the board's five most conservative supervisors and Olague, meaning it will go before voters on the November ballot if they all remain supportive. Hill said that the measure may not be voted on tomorrow because of an administrative snafu dealing with noticing requirements, but the hearing would proceed anyway, possibly offering clues as to the measure's chances of success.


Judy, perhaps you all could hit our local tea party billionaires up for some cash to run an astroturf campaign called "run with IRV, run" because we really need some more pro-cyclical tax breaks for bidness.

Posted by marcos on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 10:23 am

The Guardian flame burns bright for Olague--even as she continues to reveal herself as the worst sort of opportunist. Ah, but maybe after the election....

Posted by gust on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 10:42 am

Olague doesn't agree with you. She's been complaining that we're too hard on her over her bad votes on 8 Washington and other issues. We share your concerns about the balance she's attempting to strike and with some of the political advisers she's being unduly influenced by, and we'll make our judgments about her this fall based on how she votes and the rhetoric she adopts.

Posted by steven on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 10:54 am

From 1975 (which is as far back as is available through a combination of the SF DOE and Google news archives sites) through 2003 (the last election before RCV) there were seven mayoral runoffs. Turnout went down in four and up in three. On average it went down, albeit by just a bit more than 1%. So runoff turnout changes for the mayoral election, and only the mayoral election, are basically a wash. Turnout for all other city wide and district offices tends to go down significantly from the primary to the runoff.

Posted by pdjordan on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 6:41 pm

I was alluding to those numbers earlier and got accused of making them up by the RCV folks.

The only thing I would add is that the DA run-offs also held up in terms of December turnout but I assume that was because the Mayor was on the same ballots. If it was just the DA and not the Mayor I guess that the DA would fall off as well.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 26, 2012 @ 8:39 pm

@troll, my post does not validate your earlier statement regarding mayoral runoff turnout. You stated:

"No. The truth is that there has been only one Mayoral race since 1975 when there was a large drop off in turnout for the December runoff (1987 Agnos-Molinari. turnout went from 50% to 40%). Other than that one instance the December turnout was equal to or higher than November for the Mayor's races."

The last statement is not true. As my post indicating, turnout has declined in the majority of mayoral runoffs (four out of seven) during that time period, not just 1987 as you state. The declines were 6.28% in 1975 (Moscone won), 3.15% in 1979 (Feinstein won), 10.82% in 1987 (Agnos won) and 5.30% in 1995 (Brown won). The increases were 3.12% in 1991 (Jordan won), 3.89% in 1999 (Brown won) and 8.79% in 2003 (Newsom won).

Posted by pdjordan on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 2:21 pm

reasonably discount the views of those who cannot be assed to show up.

What depresses me about these debates is that they are based only on what might give "our side" an unfair advantage.

As such, I dismiss most of these arguments. Lee would have beaten any progressive on any possible basis and any electoral system because, quite simply, this is a moderate town. End of.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 2:27 pm

I could have worded that better.

I know that it turnout didn't go up every time but I think that if you were to remove 1987 as an outlier and look at the other 6 runoffs combined you get no or very little fall off.

The point is that we've been constantly hearing about the huge drop offs and it just isn't true for the Mayor's race. Even in this post someone accused me of making it up.

Posted by Troll on Jun. 27, 2012 @ 2:50 pm

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