Just when his progressive allies were ready to rationalize a defeat, District 5 candidate Dean Preston has flipped the script once more in this topsy turvy election. Photo by William McCarthy

Interim DA Suzy Loftus now leads Chesa Boudin by a mere 0.67 percent — 50.33 percent to 49.67 percent. Dean Preston now leads District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown by just 0.2 percent — 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

As we posited yesterday, the existential question of San Francisco elections is: Do late absentee voters who drop off or mail their ballots in the race’s waning days vote more like left-leaning in-person voters — or like moderate-leaning early absentee voters? 

Yesterday, the late absentees behaved like early absentee voters. Even more so: Both interim DA Suzy Loftus and District 5 Supervisor Vallie Brown benefitted from grand vote totals even more favorable than those they received from the earliest voters. 

And today … they did not. 

To borrow the line from the Coen brothers film A Serious Man, “accept the mystery.” The only thing consistent about this election so far is its inconsistency. 

With 4,158 more votes tallied today in District 5, Dean Preston dug out of an 88-vote deficit and is now ahead by 35 votes — yes, the margin of victory is lower than the number of people on your average No. 6 bus. There were, in fact, 36 overvotes — ballots in which a voter was disqualified. 

This, again, in a 35-vote contest. 

There are around 25,000 vote-by-mail ballots left to count and 13,000 provisional ballots. S.F. State Professor Jason McDaniel says he expects those provisionals to go strongly for Preston — provisional voters do tend to lean left. That there are 25,000 late absentee ballots remaining is “good news for Vallie Brown. She needs a lead before all that’s left is provisionals. At this point, this is just too close to call.” 

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And the same goes for the District Attorney’s race. Some 30,000 votes were counted today, and Loftus’ 2,200-vote cushion was shaved down to a mere 879 votes. 

“He cut her lead by more than half. And if the ballots look like this tomorrow, that could put Chesa ahead,” says McDaniel. “So it’s coming down to the wire.” 

The ranked-choice vote transfers from vanquished DA candidates Nancy Tung and Lief Dautch didn’t dramatically alter from yesterday’s sample; the lion’s share went to Loftus. Where Boudin succeeded was in first-place votes. He captured 38 percent of these, to just 29 percent for Loftus. 

Clearly nobody can stick to the script. In early absentees, Loftus and Brown enjoyed wide leads. Boudin and Preston stormed back with rampaging day-of-election totals. Loftus and Brown both won handily in yesterday’s batch of votes — and Boudin and Preston did the same today. 

In a contrast, while Loftus continues to benefit from ranked-choice voting — Boudin’s 2.3 percent lead on first-place votes becomes a 0.67 percent deficit when ranked-choice voting is applied — Preston is syphoning more votes than Brown from the two minor candidates in the District 5 race. 

City progressives I’d spoken with had already begun the act of mentally conceding this race — We’ve still got a supermajority on the board; we’ll still have one of the most liberal DAs in America; Vallie Brown is fine, just finebut today’s totals will likely put an end to that, at least temporarily. 

“These are terrible times for the candidates,” said one longtime political operative. “We should send them all chicken soup or whiskey or whatever helps.”

The next vote tabulations will be released on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. With luck, the Department of Elections may get through every vote-by-mail ballot, leaving only provisionals. In a race this tight, every last vote may be vital; the sanctifying of those provisional ballots, a time-consuming endeavor, may yet be a hotly contested and consequential matter.

Each of those provisional ballots will be individually inspected (and, in case you were wondering, elections director John Arntz says that around 86 percent of provisionals were accepted in the last four mayoral contests).

This level of scrutiny takes time, as does counting ballots, or accepting vote-by-mail ballots posted on Election Day that arrive at City Hall on Friday. While you may have read on the Internet that ranked-choice voting is responsible for the German-opera pace of San Francisco vote tallies, that’s just not true. 

Tabulating and verifying ballots could carry on well into next week. It figures to be a taut and stressful affair — and, if margins remain this tight, could enter into the realm of a potential recount.

McDaniel, meanwhile, has a Ph.D and he specializes in the minutiae of local elections. But you needn’t be an expert to see what he sees: “It’s just really close, man.”

Sit tight. We’re watching the outcome for you. In the meantime, keep us at it and support Mission Local – early and often.

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Managing Editor/Columnist. Joe was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left.

“Your humble narrator” was a writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015, and a senior editor at San Francisco Magazine from 2015 to 2017. You may also have read his work in the Guardian (U.S. and U.K.); San Francisco Public Press; San Francisco Chronicle; San Francisco Examiner; Dallas Morning News; and elsewhere.

He resides in the Excelsior with his wife and three (!) kids, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.

The Northern California branch of the Society of Professional Journalists named Eskenazi the 2019 Journalist of the Year.

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  1. Oh man, this is exciting. Boudin has a real shot at it if he can hold steady or gain tomorrow.

    Preston caught RCV transfer votes at a rate of 3 to 2 over Brown, which allowed him to make the pass. It’s the opposite scenario of what’s happening between Loftus and Boudin.

    I like the new RCV system — it is simpler/ clearer both on the ballot and in the “detailed summaries.” Plus now it’s possible to rank up to 10 candidates — which is how it should be, in my opinion.

  2. I object to the words “late” & “absentee”. I prefer voting in the comfort & quiet of my home and I enjoy dropping my ballot off in person at my polling place, greeting the poll workers whom I sometimes know and getting a sticker.

  3. Hey Mission Local,

    Luke just called and said that me carrying the ,,,

    ‘Boudin for DA’ sign for couple months won the margin.

    If so, I want a bottle of cheap tequila!

    Go Niners!


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