Bay Area Spotlight: San Francisco Supervisor District 1

Posted by Pedro Hernandez on December 22, 2016

Last November, voters in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro had the opportunity to vote in ranked choice voting elections (RCV), which gives voters a stronger voice and greater choice in our elections.

In San Francisco, voter turnout was 80.7% of registered voters casting a ballot -- down 0.5% from 2008, but representing more city voters than ever before in history at 414,516 votes.

San Francisco Supervisor Eric Mar was termed out in 2016, which left an open seat on the Board of Supervisors. Nine (9) candidates entered the race. Current San Francisco Unified School District Commissioner Sandra Lee Fewer emerged as the winner in this election. The analysis below provides an overview of how she won in an RCV election.

In RCV elections, candidates must obtain a majority of votes to win. In order to receive a majority, prior to RCV, San Francisco required an additional December runoff election -- runoffs generally result in substantial drops in voter participation. With RCV, voters don’t need to vote twice, but instead cast a ballot with a first, second, and third choice ranking. This allows voters to vote based on their true preference instead of the fear of “splitting the vote” among candidates from the same community.

With nine (9) candidates, the race was certain to go into an instant-runoff, where candidates with the least amount of votes are eliminated and voters second and third choices are transferred to indicate their  preference. In fact, there were nine (9) rounds of counting that occurred.

When candidates campaign for the second and third choices of voters, on the ground, face-to-face campaigning will matter more than money in politics. The San Francisco Ethics Commission keeps track of campaign and third party expenditures. What we found is that the Sandra Lee Fewer campaign had spent more than the campaign for Marjan Philhour. However, when you factor in Third-Party expenditures, Sandra Lee Fewer was outspent by third party expenditures:

Marjan Philhour Campaign Expenditures


Marjan Philhour Third Party Expenditures in Support:





Sandra Lee Fewer Campaign Expenditures


Sandra Lee Fewer Third Party Expenditures in Support




During the first round of counting in the election, two leading candidates had emerged: Sandra Lee Fewer and Marjan Philhour. Initially, Sandra Lee Fewer led with 39.6% of first choices, and Marjan Philhour with 35%. As candidates were being eliminated, Sandra Lee Fewer was able to pick up more votes than Marjan Philhour.



At the end of the runoff, Sandra Lee Fewer emerged with 52.7% of the vote to Marjan Philhour’s 47.2%.




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