A third of S.F. Chinese American voters unaware of ranked choice


One of the Bay Area’s largest Chinese-language dailies conducted a survey of San Francisco’s Chinese voters in the run up to the city’s mayoral elections in early November. Among the more surprising results, the paper found that some one-third of respondents said they were not aware that ranked choice voting would be used.

The survey by the Sing Tao Daily polled a random sampling of 325 Chinese American voters on their first choice for mayor, as well as on their understanding of ranked choice, which asks voters to list their top three choices for mayor.

This year’s race promises to bring the Chinese community out in full force come Election Day, given that four of the leading candidates are of Chinese background. According to the Sing Tao, some 80 percent of respondents said they would “absolutely” vote in November.

Whether or not they understand the new system, however, is a key question.

The results showed that 32 percent of respondents said they were unaware that ranked choice would be used, while another 16 percent said they were confused by the system.

This is the first year that San Francisco will be implementing ranked choice voting in the city’s mayoral race. Nearby Oakland used the system in its last mayoral race in 2010, helping to seal the win by the city’s new and first-ever Chinese American mayor, Jean Quan.

A cost-saving measure aimed at avoiding expensive runoff elections, under ranked choice, if no one candidate secures a 51 percent majority, then the last place finisher in the first round is eliminated, with votes for the second-choice candidates being doled out accordingly.

Election experts told the Sing Tao that the confusion and ignorance stems from the lack of an effective civic campaign to educate the electorate on the new system.

David Lee, head of the Chinese American Voter Education Committee (CAVEC), told Sing Tao that the survey results worry him.

“We are only two weeks away from the elections, and there are still many voters who are confused by the system, or are unaware of it. This is the biggest problem revealed by the survey.”

Lee urged candidates to do more to ensure voters understand the system, adding that CAVEC sent out 50,000 bilingual brochures in Chinese and English informing local residents on the rules of ranked choice voting.

He also noted the potential for frustration with the system, which could drive away voters.

On Election Day, voters will be asked to fill in the names of their top three choices. If voters leave spaces blank, or fill in the same name in all three slots, then a red light will signal on the ballot machine asking them to verify their choices. Lee says this may drive those confronting language barriers away from the ballot box.

As for who their top candidates are, almost one-third of respondents said they have yet to decide. Among those who have decided, incumbent Mayor Ed Lee came out on top with 61.3 percent, with State Senator Leland Yee at 3.1 percent and Supervisor David Chiu with 1.6 percent. Phil Ting, Jeff Adachi and John Avalos all came in under 1 percent.

Among the three top choices of Lee, Yee and Chiu, the latter comes in as the youngest, at 41, and with the least amount of experience in city politics, having been elected to the Board of Supervisors in 2008. He is also the only one out the five Chinese candidates in this year’s elections who isn’t married.

According to the Chinese-language World Journal, however, Chiu may be looking to burnish his image as a family man by making public his relationship with long-time friend and colleague Candace Chen.

Chen, a third generation Chinese American, is a civil rights and immigration attorney. She met Chiu several years ago when he served as the president of the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area. The couple’s relationship was announced to the press two weeks ago amid talk of Chiu’s bachelor status.
A slew of negative attack ads appeared last month in the Chinese media and sponsored by the Ed Lee and Leland Yee campaigns. Asked whether such ads were effective in influencing their preferences, some 40 percent of respondents to the survey answered they were not.

The Sing Tao, meanwhile, is the only Chinese paper in the Bay Area that endorses both candidates and propositions. For the November ballot, the paper endorsed Ed Lee as their first choice for San Francisco mayor, with David Chiu coming in second, and Bevan Dufty third.

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