Council Meeting:  September 13, 2005                                                                                                                 Santa Monica, CA







TO:                  Mayor and City Council


FROM:            City Staff


SUBJECT:     Information Report for Item 12-A; Ranked Voting


Staff has reviewed the information provided by Santa Monica Ranked Voting and is providing the following information for consideration during this discussion.



The City of Santa Monica has been consolidating its elections with the Los Angeles County's General Election since November 1984.  Before that, the City held stand-alone elections in April, on odd-numbered years.


In consolidating our election, the City Clerk's duties include distributing information to potential candidates; issuing, accepting and verifying nomination papers; preparing the request to the County for consolidation, preparing and proofing the voters' pamphlet, submitting all necessary information to the County related to candidates and measures for inclusion on the ballot; and approving certain County activities related to the City's election.


The County's duties include administering the remaining part of the election as if it were their own, including sending out absentee voter ballots; providing precinct locations, precinct workers, equipment and supplies, and ballots for election day.  In addition, the County conducts the final vote count of absentee and live ballots, tallies the result, and provides the City with a certified canvass.


Status of Ranked Voting at County and State Levels:

The County Clerk has advised that she is not now considering, nor expects to consider in the future, the purchase of any new equipment to accommodate ranked voting.


Staff from the Secretary of State's Office (SOS) advises that the existing certification for using ranked voting equipment is conditional to San Francisco only, and the certification will expire December 31, 2005.  If a municipality were to run a ranked voting election and want to use the services of the company that implemented the system in San Francisco, the municipality would be required to get its own certification from the SOS, as the San Francisco certification is based on San Francisco standards and applicable only to San Francisco.


Further, SOS staff also advises that the SOS currently cannot certify a ranked voting program that can be used state-wide because standards for such a program do not exist.  Ideally, the SOS would like to see the State Legislature approve a set of standards upon which vendors could then create a program based on those standards.  It appears that an issue in attempting to develop standards is that there are a number of algorithms from which to select to program the computer to "move up" the votes of the losing candidates and assign them to those in the lead, and the results of the final vote will differ depending on the algorithm selected.  Before any standards can be developed and presented to the SOS, a specific algorithm must be agreed upon.


The SOS certified San Francisco conditionally in order to allow them to hold the ranked voting election as required by the amendment to their City Charter, and according to SOS staff, other municipalities and/or entities in the State that have adopted ranked voting have done so pending SOS certification of a state-wide program.


Concurrent Election

Were the City to conduct a ranked voting election at the same time as the County's general election in November of even-numbered years, the City would have to administer a stand-alone concurrent election, provided the County agreed.  Issues that would arise out of running a concurrent election may include but not be limited to the following:

-           Assisting the County in finding precinct locations large enough and accessible enough to house two sets of voting equipment, as the City would have to supply its own voting machines and supplies, and additional precinct workers.  There is also the option of securing separate locations for the concurrent election but, in staff's opinion, this would be confusing and counterproductive.


-           Providing additional precinct workers to guide voters from one election ballot to the other, and to explain the difference of voting on the County election and voting on the local election.


-           Coordinating the delivery of equipment and supplies to precinct locations with the County, while assuring City staff access to the ranked voting equipment for accuracy testing.


-           Risking that voters leave the precinct after voting on the County's general election without voting on the local election for lack of interest; because of the time involved to vote for two separate elections; because of some confusion at the change in voting process; or possibly for having to wait in a long line to vote for one and then having to wait in a second long line to vote at another.


-           Increased elections costs for voter education and outreach, the purchase or lease of the equipment, to hire and train precinct workers, and to conduct election night activities.  The costs savings cited in the information given to Council by Santa Monica Ranked voting would not be applicable as the City does not hold run-off elections.


As a point of interest in running concurrent elections, in November of 1990 the County did not have sufficient space on its ballot to include Santa Monica's election information.  For this reason, the City was required to hold a concurrent stand alone election with separate ballots.  People voting in Santa Monica first voted for the County's general election and then were given a second ballot to vote for the local election.  City Clerk staff present at the time advises that some voters were confused about the double ballots, that the process was awkward for the precinct workers, and that some voters were reluctant to stay and vote a second time.  Additional workers were needed to assist with the concurrent election and to assure that the two different ballots were kept separately and in their proper ballot box.  These concerns may be magnified in a concurrent election by the presence of two different voting processes, equipment and supplies.


Stand-Alone Election

To avoid the confusion and awkwardness of a concurrent election, the City could change its election date to any date at least six weeks prior to the November general election, and return to holding stand-alone elections.


Having a stand-alone election would concentrate, rather than dilute, the education and outreach activities as the voters would only have to focus on the local election and the issues involved. In addition, staff would have authority, control and access to all polling sites, and the training of precinct workers would be more efficient.


The down side of a stand-alone election would be a possible decrease in voter turn out.  Attached for your information is a summary of voter turn out from April 1971 that includes April and November elections.



Staff is prepared to research the feasibility of ranked voting should Council approve a motion to do so.  Changing the election process to ranked voting, however, would result in substantial increased costs to pay for the lease or purchase of equipment that would need to be certified by the Secretary of State.  As mentioned above, the City would not realize run-off election cost savings such as those in San Francisco because the City does not have run-off elections.


Prepared by:  Maria M. Stewart

                         City Clerk