Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q. I am not sure IRV is a credible system, who supports IRV for Oakland?

    A. IRV is widely used abroad, including in Australia, which has used the system for over 80 years to elect its House of Representatives. San Francisco uses IRV to elect all local officials, as does Burlington (VT). In Alameda County, Berkeley and San Leandro have amended their charters to use IRV (but have not yet used IRV for technical reasons), and a few years ago Oakland did too, but only to fill vacancies. IRV has strong support from good government groups, such as the Oakland League of Women Voters and California Common Cause, and is endorsed by over a dozen local elected officials.(see other endorsers.)

  • Q. I've listened to a description of how instant runoffs are tabulated, and it seems complicated. Is instant runoff voting too complicated?

    A. Not for the voter! Voters simply rank the candidates in order of preference. In many ways, this is simpler than the current sustem because Voters no longer need to fret about whether their favorite candidate has a good chance to win, or if they are "wasting" their vote, or even helping their least preferred candidate. For many voters this makes it actually easier to vote — there's no strategy involved!

    The only "complicated" aspect of instant runoff voting is the tabulation that occurs if there is no initial majority winner. But even this is not so different from the current runoff system. When no one gets a majority, instead of having to organize a second election to determine the runoff winner (which we currently do), IRV does this instantly because everyone marked their second choice on their ballot in advance.

  • Q. I would find it hard to rank a bunch of candidates, I might not know much about some of them. What if I only like one candidate?

    A. That's fine, you can just vote for one person if you like, and your vote would count just as much as your vote counts in the current system. Instant runoff voting simply gives the option of expressing additional preferences if you wish. Your second choice vote would only be used if no candidate has a majority (over half the votes) and your first-choice candidate happens to be eliminated in the runoff.

  • Q. But it seems like some voters are getting two votes, while others are only getting one. Am I right?

    A. No. It's like a runoff election — everyone gets to vote in the original election and they get the chance to vote in the runoff. Everybody gets an equal vote. In every round of counting, every ballot counts as one vote for the highest-ranked candidate still in the running. If your candidate is still viable, your vote will continue to count for your favorite candidate. If your candidate has been eliminated, rather than getting zero vote, your vote automatically counts for your next favorite candidate. After a legal challenge to the use of IRV in Ann Arbor, Michigan, the court ruled that IRV fully complied with the principle of "one person, one vote."

  • Q. Will IRV require the purchase of new voting machines? How much will IRV cost?

    A. Oakland would not need to purchase new machines. Alameda County recently entered into an agreement with Sequoia, its new elections systems provider, to have all county voting equipment IRV-ready by 2007. If Oakland chose to use IRV for all elections, the city would incur a one-time voter education cost of approximately $400,000. Fortunately, these costs will be re-couped because IRV eliminates the need for costly runoff elections, which the City Auditor estimated costs up to $500,000. Oaklanders will see net cost savings within the first few elections where a citywide runoff would have otherwise been required. For more information, go to IRV Dollars and Sense.

  • Q. How long will it take to implement IRV?

    A. Alameda County has signed a contract with Sequoia such that all county elections equipment will be IRV-ready by 2007. Oaklanders for IRV is advocating that all city elections be run using IRV by 2008. The text of Measure O specifies that IRV elections will not be conducted until the County is ready to run them.

  • Q. How does IRV affect minorities?

    A. As an election system, IRV does not advantage any ethnic group over another. However, because IRV promotes voter participation, it can especially benefit minority groups where voter turnout is traditionally much much lower. For more information, go to IRV and Minorities.

  • Q. Why not just use a familiar two-election runoff procedure?

    A. Regular runoffs are usually better than plurality rules, because the majority can't split their vote. However, two-round runoffs have distinct disadvantages. A traditional runoff extends the campaign season, which most voters object to. Traditional runoffs are also costly, both to the taxpayer who must pay for the duplicate election and to the candidates who must double campaign fund-raising, prolonging their stress and creating more potential influence for campaign donors. IRV assures that the ultimate decision will be made at the election with the greatest level of citizen participation. Runoffs tend to have a low voter turnout. The winner of a runoff may receive far fewer votes than an opponent won in the original election, leading to doubts about the "will of the people," hobbled legitimacy, and lack of a perceived mandate. Finally, in a big field of candidates, the strongest candidate might finish third and miss the runoff altogether.

  • Q. Our elections still doesn't seem to have that big of a problem. "If it ain't broke—don't fix it." Right?

    A. The electoral system is broken. Oakland's elections take place when voter turnout is dismally low. For special elections, there is no majority requirement so candidates have been winning with less than 35 percent of the vote. On top of all that, the runoff system discourages people from voting sincerely for the candidate they truly believe in. Simply put, because of our current electoral system, local democracy is not very representative of Oakland. For more information, go to IRV and Democracy.

  • Q. Is instant runoff voting constitutional?

    A. Absolutely. In fact, any state right now can adopt IRV for selecting U.S. presidential electors by a mere state law—there is no need for a federal constitutional amendment. The U.S. constitution leaves it up to the states to decide how to conduct their elections. In California, Charter Cities (like Oakland) may use IRV by amending their Charters. San Francisco did just this several years ago, and has legally used IRV since 2004.

Return to the Oakland IRV Home.

Featured Supporters:

"For a long time I've viewed Instant Runoff Voting as an important step in increasing the number of voters who participate in making the important decisions about who represents us. I'm convinced that IRV will result in municipal officials elected by a larger percentage of voters." Resolution or statement of support.

Pat Kernighan
Oakland City Councilmember
District 2

Keith Carson
Alameda County Board of Supervisors
District 5, President

Full list of endorsers