San Francisco’s Department of Elections is planning to embark on a marketing blitz starting this summer to get the word out about big changes to the city’s voting system.
Last week, the Board of Supervisors approved an $8.46 million contract through March 2023 for new voting equipment that city officials said would be more secure, easier to use and more accessible to the disabled. The contract, with Dominion Voting Systems, has two one-year extension options, which would cost $2.1 million per year.
“The most important thing we want people to realize is that San Francisco will still use paper ballots for voting,” said John Arntz, director of the elections department.
“The system provides security for the integrity of the entire system,” he said. “There’s no access to the Internet, through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. … This system has the security to prevent bad things from happening.”
The new machines will be used in the Nov. 5 election in San Francisco, so elections officials are looking to get the word out about what’s changing.
For starters, the machines also expand the number of candidates that voters can select in contests that use ranked-choice voting. On the older machines, voters could only rank their top-three choices for offices like the mayor, the Board of Supervisors and district attorney.
With the new machines, however, voters will be able to rank up to 10 candidates. City law requires that ranked-choice ballots reflect the number of candidates running in a given election, to the extent that technology permits.
Perhaps the biggest difference voters will see, however, are the redesigned ballots. Instead of the familiar broken arrows, voters will instead fill in ovals, similar to those found on standardized tests. Ranked-choice contests will feature candidates listed on a vertical column and voters will rank their preferences, one through 10, horizontally in sequence.
To get the public ready by November, the elections department plans to roll out a “robust voter education program,” according to its voter education and outreach plan.
Beginning in April, the department will be distributing advertisements, public service announcements, radio broadcasts, transit ads, social media campaigns and demonstrations, with an emphasis on non-English speaking populations, first-time voters and communities with historically low voter turnout.
Information about the new voting system will be sent to about 500,000 voters in October, along with general information about the November election. Another 290,000 notices will be sent with vote-by-mail ballots in October, with illustrations on how to properly mark ballots.
— Dominic Fracassa