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Contenders await ballot counting in San Francisco mayor race

June 7, 2018
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Board of Supervisors President London Breed, center, greets supporters before speaking to reporters in San Francisco, Wednesday, June 6, 2018. Former state Sen. Mark Leno pulled ahead in San Francisco's race for mayor by the slimmest of margins early Wednesday under the city's unusual voting system, although Breed maintained her lead in first-place votes. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — The two leading candidates in San Francisco’s race for mayor are resigned to days of uncertainty as the contest remained too close to call and tens of thousands of ballots waited to be counted Wednesday.

Updated results showed former state Sen. Mark Leno maintaining a tiny lead under the city’s unusual voting system, although Board of Supervisors President London Breed continued to have the most first-place votes.

San Francisco uses a ranked-choice voting system that allows voters to select their top-three favorites. The candidates with the least votes are eliminated in rounds until there’s a winner. The person with the most first-place votes isn’t necessarily that winner.

Leno, who was leading Breed by 1,121 votes, said the vote leader could change several times before a winner is declared.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw some zigzagging and seesawing,” said a relaxed Leno, speaking to reporters crammed into his small sign-printing shop off Market Street on Wednesday.

Breed also appeared before reporters Wednesday outside an African American arts complex she once led. Breed said she knew the race would be tight and takes pride in the results.

“Not only did I get the majority of first-place votes, I basically won in about nine of 11 districts in this city,” she said. “I think that sends a loud message.”

Turnout could top 50 percent, which is high for a June primary election that has averaged in the low 30s, elections director John Arntz said. Turnout in the two most recent mayoral elections was above 40 percent.

Earlier Wednesday, Arntz said city officials had about 90,000 ballots left to count, although they can continue trickling in through Friday, the final day to accept ballots postmarked by election day. The city counted about 4,300 of those ballots Wednesday.

With nearly 159,000 ballots counted, Breed had 36 percent of first-place votes. Leno had 26 percent of first-place votes and Supervisor Jane Kim had 23 percent.

But under ranked-choice voting, Kim was eliminated and Leno picked up the majority of her second-place votes. The two had banded together and asked supporters to vote for the other as their No. 2 choice on the ballot.

The three candidates are all Democrats, but Breed was backed by the establishment business community, and Leno and Kim were favored by more liberal elements of the party, including tenants and critics of tech companies such as Airbnb and Uber.

Leno said voters were hungry for something different.

“A significant plurality, if not majority, of voters are indeed looking for change, looking for a new direction, looking for something much better for San Francisco,” he said, ticking off homelessness and housing affordability as some of the issues plaguing the city.

Leno, 66, would make history as the city’s first openly gay mayor four decades after Harvey Milk made LGBT history by winning a supervisor’s seat. Milk and then-Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in 1978.

Leno was the first to enter the mayor’s race, long before the unexpected death of Mayor Ed Lee in December, which moved up the race.

Breed, 43, who would become San Francisco’s first African-American female mayor, was raised by her grandmother in public housing, graduated from public schools and is touted as a local success story.

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