Blue: outcomes of local elections 2000 (with local parties)

Red: outcomes of the national elections before the 2003 elections

Yellow: outcomes of the national elections after the 2003 elections

Local Parties are alive and play important roles


Which Electoral Structure delivers the representative you want best?


District Elections
An area is divvied up in districts and each district chooses one representative. Needed to win seat per district: 50% of the votes.

Citywide Elections
Voters in the city cast one vote for each seat that becomes available. Needed to win seats: most votes for seat 1, second most votes for seat 2, third most votes for seat 3, etc.

Proportional Elections
Voters in an area cast only one vote per person. Needed to win one seat: number of all votes divided by number of all seats.

Three examples deliver the different outcomes to the three different electoral structures, two of which have been — at one point in time — in use in San Francisco. San Francisco never had proportional elections.

District Elections

District Winner


We can safely assume we all know how district elections function (winner takes all), yet to get a complete image there needs to be some explanation. San Francisco has 11 districts delivering 11 Supervisors to city hall; they arrived as winners from single races per district. Winner-takes-all means getting 50% of the votes or more. Instant run-off changed the equation a bit in that Mirkarimi won by — though getting only a third of the total votes cast — having more than 50% of the remaining votes (those voters who did not vote for the three candidates that made it till the final count saw their votes become void). Normally in districts, between 0 and 49.9% of the cast votes are cast towards candidates who did not become winners.

Citywide Elections (once every two years for half the number of seats, 6 in one election, 5 in the other election)

Voter 1 2 3 4 **** Voter 1 2 3 4
1st choice A B C F **** T M N Z
2nd Choice B C I E ****   S P Q L
3rd Choice C D E B ****   P R O P
4th Choice D H G H ****   M N M R
5th Choice E G H C ****   N S P S
6th Choice H E D D ****          


Outome First Election A B C D E F G H I **** Outcome Second Election L M N O P Q R S T Z
Votes 1 3 4 4 4 1 2 4 1 ****   1 3 3 1 4 1 2 3 1 1
Tally% 4.2 12.5 16.7 16.7 16.7 4.2 8.3 16.7 4.2 ****   5 15 15 5 20 5 10 15 5 5

In the first election, with 6 seats up for election, people cast six votes for six different candidates. In the first spot we placed the candidate the person really really wanted. In this election A, F, (and also I) did not make it, even though Voter 1 and 4 felt very strong about one of these candidates. In the second election, two years later, the same people cast votes for 5 candidates. Again, in the first spot the person they really liked, showing that again the first choice of Voters 1 and 4 did not make it. Effect is that the specific choice of a voter is snowed under by the general voice of the populace. This was a safe form of elections for the Democratic party since Republicans, representing about 15% of the population in our city, did then not make the grade. However, when the Green alternative truly became an alternative for many voters, the system got conveniently changed back to district elections with its higher threshold of 50%. In this city-wide system everybody get a good number of their candidates elected, yet there is a good chance that the candidate they really wanted may not be among them, and a mainstream of representatives gets elected only.

Proportional Elections

Seat 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11
% votes 10 9 9 9 9 9 9 8 8 8 7

The candidates receiving around 9% of the votes get a seat

In this example 5% of the votes went to candidates who didn't win a seat.

If San Francisco were to hold proportional elections this could be a realistic outcome:

Of the eleven supervisors 1 would, for instance, be Latin-American, 2 African-American, 4 Caucasian-American, and 4 Asian-American.
Of the eleven supervisors 1 would, for instance, be Republican, 1 Libertarian, 2 Green, and 7Democrats.
Of the eleven supervisors 5 would, for instance, be female, 6 would be male.
Of the eleven supervisors 1 would, for instance, be gay, 1 lesbian, 1 undisclosed, and 8 straight.

Majority rules — in general that would mean that Democrats and Greens would be teaming up in San Francisco to get most of their agenda passed, but on specific issues different coalitions would occur as well. Having to satisfy a more diverse body, the result would become more refined.

District Elections can truly be more exciting because a lot is often at stake. As we all know, they can be more painful too. Don't be enticed by the heat of the moment: democracy should always mean representation. Any diminishment of representation is a diminishment of democracy. If you had to choose between hot races/the best spin money can buy on the one hand and boring but distinctive improvements in the battle against poverty on the other hand, what would you choose? According to us, better tame elections that deliver substance than hothothot races that do not deliver much choice.



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