Almost 1 Week After Mayor's Race, San Francisco Still Lacks Winner

by | June 12, 2018

By Dominic Fracassa

While she is still in the lead, Supervisor London Breed didn't make much progress in her quest to become San Francisco's next mayor. The latest batch of election results released Monday show her leading Mark Leno by 1,601 votes, or 50.38 to 49.62 percent. That's an increase of just 21 votes over Sunday's total.

The race has been exceedingly close since election night, and the scramble to interpret the once-daily updates from the Department of Elections has become a tense waiting game for each candidate's supporters.

"It's a stressful waiting period," said Leona Bridges, a Breed supporter who has come to City Hall each day to see the results for herself. "And we'll be here every day until the final results come in," she said.

Breed has persistently chipped away at the narrow lead former state Sen. Leno established on election night, finally overtaking him for the top spot on Saturday by 498 votes. After Sunday's count, she led by 1,580 votes. She has maintained her lead in first-place votes by 10 percentage points or more throughout the week.

There are still 17,090 ballots to count -- around 14,000 of which are provisional ballots that the Elections Department will begin diving into on Tuesday.

"Breed only gained 21 votes today, which, given the state of the race, is fairly good news for Leno," said Jason McDaniel, an associate professor of political science at San Francisco State University.

"We are pleased that every day since the election we have held strong and gained votes, but there are still 17,000 ballots left to count," said Tara Moriarty, a spokeswoman for the Breed campaign. "So again, this election is simply too close to call."

Leno's camp hoped the bundles of vote-by-mail ballots dropped off at polling places on election day would break his way, following a rule of thumb in San Francisco politics suggesting that more-progressive factions of the electorate tend to vote later.

But in fact, more later-arriving vote-by-mail ballots have gone Breed's way. She is also the top recipient of first-place votes in nine out of 11 supervisorial districts.

Leno's campaign had been buoyed largely by the volume of No. 2 picks he received from Supervisor Jane Kim's backers under the city's ranked-choice voting system. Leno has consistently taken on around 77 percent of Kim's second-place votes. She all but conceded the race last week, after preliminary voting results showed her coming in third.

"Kim's performance is keeping Leno in the race," McDaniel said.

Kim and Leno endorsed each other as their No. 2 picks on the ranked-choice ballot.

Zoë Kleinfeld, a spokeswoman for the Leno campaign, said, "With a historic voter turnout of over 50 percent, we need to honor each and every vote cast in this election," including the thousands of provisional ballots, which are given to people who want to cast ballots but don't appear on official voter registration lists. Around 90 percent of provisional ballots end up being accepted after being assessed by Election Department officials.

"Sen. Leno is excited to continue working with all of San Francisco, regardless of the outcome," Kleinfeld said.

A winner won't be officially declared until Elections Department Director John Arntz certifies the election after ensuring that all valid ballots have been counted. His certification then has to be approved by the Board of Supervisors.

Because of that, it's unlikely that the winning candidate would be sworn in before the first week of July.

Breed's ascent to the city's top job would also trigger a number of changes at the Board of Supervisors. If she takes office, one of the board's first tasks will be to elect a new president to finish out her term, which ends in January.

Breed would be expected to appoint her successor for the District Five supervisorial seat quickly after taking office, clearing the way for her replacement to vote in the election of the new board president.

Tallying mail votes is a days-long process in San Francisco because each ballot is split into four separate cards, each of which has to be removed from a sealed envelope and hand-fed into one of the city's four vote-counting machines.

(c)2018 the San Francisco Chronicle