Measure O is Good for the Asian Community

By Corinne Jan
Published October 17th 2006 in Ming Pao Daily

This November, Oakland voters will have an opportunity to vote on Measure O, which will greatly improve Oakland elections. Measure O will increase voter turnout, save taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and improve the quality of political campaigns. Asian communities in Oakland will greatly benefit from the passage of Measure O.

The problem with our elections is that officeholders usually are elected in the June primary when voter turnout is extremely low. In the last June election, only a third (33 percent) of eligible voters voted. Yet that small electorate decided the winners for everyone else. Voter turnout in November elections (when national and state races are decided) is much higher than June.

Not only that, but a recent study found that for communities of color, voter turnout in June has been only half the turnout in November elections. While the turnout for Asian voters is improving, we still have relatively lower turnouts. In Oakland’s June 2004 election voter turnout in predominantly Asian precincts was 20% lower than turnout in predominantly white precincts. With most contests being decided in June, minority voters are not having their voices heard.

For those races that require both a June election and a November runoff, administering two elections can cost hundreds of thousands of extra tax dollars -- money that could be better spent on other city services. And holding two elections instead of one is costly to candidates, giving an advantage to candidates that can raise more money, undermining campaign finance reform.

The solution to these problems with Oakland democracy is Measure O. Measure O implements an innovative reform called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) to achieve the worthy goal of electing winners who have a majority of the popular vote -- except we finish in one election in November, when voter turnout is highest.

Here’s how it works: Voters indicate their favorite candidate, just like they do now, but at the same time they also rank their runoff choices, 1, 2, 3 on their ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of first rankings, she wins -- just like now. But if no candidate has a majority of first rankings the second and third rankings are used to determine the majority winner. This eliminates the need for a separate June election.

By eliminating low turnout June elections, Oakland will elect officeholders who win a popular majority in one November election, ensuring that more voters have a say in electing local leaders. People of color will not be disenfranchised by the low turnout June election. Oakland taxpayers will save hundreds of thousands of tax dollars, and candidates will be spared the chore of having to raise money for two elections.

Another important benefit is that IRV will shorten the campaign season for local races, and decrease some of the negative mudslinging. That's because with IRV, candidates may need the second or third rankings from the supporters of other candidates to win. So you have to be more careful about what you say about those candidates.

San Francisco has held two elections in 2004 and 2005 using IRV. Three exit polls were conducted that showed voters overwhelmingly like IRV. A whopping 87% responded that they understand it (after sufficient community education), with positive results cutting across all ethnic and racial groups. In the 2005 election the parts of San Francisco with the highest concentrations of people of color saw the greatest boost in voter turnout, four times higher in some neighborhoods. The studies found that Asian-Americans had no difficulties using IRV, with Chinese-speakers reporting they understood IRV at levels comparable to English-speakers. If Measure O passes, Oakland elections will be held in November, when turnout is highest and the electorate more accurately reflects the diversity of Oakland. More Asian voters will participate and exercise greater weight in our elections.

For all these reasons, many Asian leaders support Measure O, including Supervisor Alice Lai-Bitker, Assemblywoman Wilma Chan, School Board President David Kakishiba, former Councilmember Danny Wan, Luna Yasui of Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Greg Jan of the Ohana Asian Cultural Center. It's also endorsed by the Alameda County Democratic Party, Central Labor Council, Sierra Club, League of Women Voters, Oakland Tribune and many more.

And I heartily endorse Measure O as well. Measure O will be a big win for all of Oakland, including the Asian community. For more information, please visit www.OaklandIRV.org

Corinne Jan is the Chief Executive Officer of Family Bridges, Inc. in Oakland.