Will We Have Instant Runoff Voting For Berkeley’s November Election?

By Merrilie Mitchell
Published June 19th 2008 in The Berkeley Daily Planet
Instant runoff voting (IRV) could be in place for Berkeley’s local November 2008 election. The federal government and California’s secretary of state are expected to test new voting machines for IRV soon. If they pass inspection timely, IRV would be ready for the fall election.

When will we know for sure? The city clerk says this must be by July 14, when signups to run for local office begin.

Mayor Bates wants IRV to be in place for the November election and has been preparing for it. But he has not been in a rush to prepare the community for IRV. This gives our mayor and City Council a head start in strategizing for this new voting system. Meanwhile, the later the community learns about this, the better it is for Bates and his team.

We should all learn how this works now—because otherwise, if it takes an election or two to understand, the IRV game may come and go. This is true because our City Council can implement IRV or eliminate IRV via a short process written in the city charter.

Meanwhile, this is a critical election. Mayor Bates’ team talks about “green” and “climate action,” but plans massive densification, the kind that leads to “urban heat island” effect as identified in Phoenix. Caused by overly dense development, this is “fed by the city’s growth, trapping heat and making temperatures soar.” (csmonitor.com/2007/08/30/p01/F.Bowers)

Take a look at the size of the development on the former Oxford parking lot between Allston and Kittridge. You may gasp! And every tall and beautiful street tree was cut down and destroyed releasing its stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Bates is planning much more tall and dense development: two 23-story hotels, many high-rises, transit villages on BART, Amtrak, and Rapid Bus stations, and rezoning for redevelopment. That’s for starters.

Pause. This is all too much for me, so I would like to digress for a moment to remember John Denton, my favorite Councilmember, who never got co-opted by developers. He was always there for us and helped the community long after he left the City Council.

And I appreciate former Mayor Shirley Dean.

I watched Mrs. Dean climb a tree in the oak grove, with Betty Olds and Sylvia McLaughlin (our brave tree-climbing seniors). Mrs. Dean was trying to help save the trees in the grove and to help save our precious Strawberry Canyon. The UC Campus, Lawrence Berkeley Labs, and BP, have unbelievable development plans for Strawberry Canyon. These include building 15 outrageously large laboratories, carved into hillsides, with access roads and huge surface parking lots bulldozed into the fields and forests. And they would destroy our oxygen producing Greenbelt link and wildlife corridor between two Regional Parks while calling all this “Green” and for advanced research regarding global warming.

Mrs. Dean was a good mayor though she never had a real majority, which the Bates/Hancock/BCA regimes have held for nearly 30 years. Dean wanted to solarize the entire city, unlike Tom Bates who admits his priority is to “get the city developed.” Dean supported and continues to support our neighborhoods, landmarks, trees, schools, parks...

Now back to IRV for highlights:

• We will get the same kind of IRV that San Francisco has (they call it “rank choice voting—RCV—since you rank your choices, and because counting votes is not always instant!). You can research IRV/RCV at sfgov.org-elections. Then click “voting.” Next go to “rank choice voting.”

• The IRV instructions ask you to rank three choices for each office, in order of preference.

• They discourage “bullet” voting for same candidate more than once, by saying that if you repeat the name of a candidate for one office, that choice will only be counted once.

• Ideally you‘ll want to have three good choices for each office on the ballot. Three for mayor; three for your councilmember; three for each school board member; and three for each rent board commissioner. Without good choices—whom will you vote for?

• So we should encourage all good candidates to consider running in this election and the more the merrier!

Merrilie Mitchell is a community activist.