Go to: Media Coverage of Oakland IRV
Media Coverage of Oakland IRV
Oakland’s IRV Author Believes System Will Work
by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, November 24, 2006. (Berkeley Daily Planet)
The man who was the lead drafter of the Instant Runoff Vote language that eventually became Oakland’s Measure O says that the chance that differences in vote-counting procedures in various forms of IRV could affect the outcome of an election are “incredibly small,” and the example cited in a recent Daily Planet article would not affect an election outcome at all.
In addition, Chris Jerdonek, Northern California Representative of FairVote organization, says that the city clerks in IRV-approved cities in Alameda County have been meeting for many months now to help plan implementation of IRV in the county, and “all of them want the system to be the same in each city.”
Jerdonek’s comments were in response to a Nov. 14 Daily Planet article that reported, in part, that “just what form, or forms, [the IRV] system [in Alameda County] will take has not yet been determined. … [D]ifferent forms of IRV have different methods of elimination that can have widely varying effects on the eventual winner.”
Under the Instant Runoff Voting system, also referred to as ranked choice voting, voters in a political races with more than two candidates running are allowed to rank those candidates by order of preference. Instead of holding a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of the initial vote, IRV allows a winner to be declared by eliminating the lower-choice candidates after the first round of balloting, and adding their second or third choices to the totals of the candidates remaining.
Voters in San Leandro in 2000 and Berkeley in 2004 approved the use of IRV instead of a runoff in municipal elections in those cities, but did not specify details of what type of IRV system should be used. In November, Oakland voters also approved IRV for use in that city, with the measure including details on how that system should operate.
Earlier this year, Alameda County Supervisors approved a contract with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems to provide voting machines and software for Alameda elections capable of handling IRV by November of 2007.
Jerdonek said that because it is likely that Alameda County cities will eventually adopt one IRV system, and that the instances where a different method of handling a vote amounts to less than 1 percent of votes cast, “saying that the details [of different IRV systems] will have ‘widely varying effects’ on the outcome was a harmful exaggeration and unfortunate.”
The Alameda County Registrars office has been coordinating a countywide effort to prepare for the implementation of IRV since Berkeley passed its IRV-authorizing measure in 2004. Under intense pressure from voting activists to begin implementing IRV, former registrar Elaine Ginnold formed a task force that included voting rights activists, members of the League of Women Voters, county supervisors, and representatives from several Alameda County cities. Eventually, in the summer of 2005, the task force created a document called an IRV Roadmap, which outlined the methods to be used for IRV implementation in the county.
Jerdonek says the IRV Roadmap was the foundation for the IRV language in Oakland’s Measure O, and that it has the support of the city clerks in the three Alameda County cities—Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro—where IRV has been authorized.
The IRV task force had a final meeting under acting registrar Dave Macdonald. Jerdonek said he does not expect the task force to continue to meet, since, he says, “the ideas are pretty much finalized,” and it’s time now for Sequoia to put the software in place. Jerdonek says he does not think there will be much bickering among the city clerks as to what form IRV takes in their cities. “I think they’ll just be happy to have it,” he said.
But the mayors and city councilmembers in Berkeley and San Leandro have not yet weighed in on the issue, and it is they—not the city clerks—who will make the final decision on how the system is implemented.
Representatives of the Alameda County Registrars Office did not return telephone calls in connection with this story. The public information officer for Sequoia Voting Systems said that the company employees most familiar with Alameda County are currently on Thanksgiving holiday. She promised to provide information on the company’s plans following the holiday break.
(Return to top.)
Next Step: How to Implement Instant Runoff Voting
by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor, November 14, 2006. (Berkeley Daily Planet)
The question for Alameda County election officials in the next few months is like a paraphrase of the old O’Jays song: "Now that we’ve got IRV, what are we gonna’ do with it?"
The IRV, in this instance, is instant runoff voting, or ranked-choice voting. A voting system that eliminates runoff elections by allowing voters to rank candidates on the ballot in order of preference, IRV has been approved for use in municipal elections in San Leandro, Berkeley, and, most recently, in Oakland, where voters passed the IRV-implementing Measure O in last Tuesday’s election.
The Sequoia voting machines currently used in Alameda County elections do not have IRV capability. But a clause in the county’s contract with Sequoia requires that the company put in place the hardware and software capable of handling ranked-choice voting by November of next year.
But just what form, or forms, that system will take has not yet been determined.
IRV operates in races of three or more candidates by having voters cast only one ballot, but having "rounds" of vote counting to choose the eventual winner. During each round of counting, the candidates with the lowest "first choice" vote totals are eliminated.
The second choice on the ballots of those voters who voted for the eliminated candidates will then be added to the totals of the remaining candidates, eventually ending up in a final round of vote-counting in which there are only two candidates remaining, one of whom will be ensured a majority of the final vote tally.
But different forms of IRV have different methods of elimination that can have widely varying effects on the eventual winner. Oakland’s recently passed Measure O, for example, allows for the elimination of more than one candidate in each round, under certain circumstances. That is different from other systems, which only allow for the elimination of one candidate in each round. It is possible for a different candidate to win an election under the use of these two different elimination methods, even if voters rank their choices in the identical way.
There are also differences in how ballots should be handled when a voter fails to make the proper number of ranked choices.
Neither ballot measure authorizing IRV, in San Leandro in 2000 or Berkeley in 2004, specified the exact type of form the IRV election system would take in those cities.
Officials from the Alameda County registrar’s office, Sequoia Voting Systems, the League of Women Voters, the three cities with IRV authorization in place, and the county’s remaining cities are expected to meet throughout the year before the November 2007 implementation deadline to work out the differences.
A sales representative for Sequoia Voting Systems said during an interview on election night last week that "Sequoia would prefer having one method of IRV implemented throughout the county."
But the representative said that the Oakland-based company had the capability of writing software to support more than one system, "and we will work to accommodate what the county and the cities eventually authorize."
Berkeley City Councilmember Kriss Worthington said he had not yet had the chance to look at Oakland’s IRV ballot authorization—noting that "I’ve been busy this fall with some other activities"—and said that he did not know if Oakland’s measure would be acceptable to Berkeley.
"It would be nice if we would have a one-size-fits-all system," Worthington said. "These details are going to have to be hashed out."
Worthington said he believed that work to coordinate the IRV implementation is going to go slowly until a permanent county registrar of voters is chosen. Dave Macdonald, who coordinated the November election in the county, currently serves as acting registrar.
Berkeley City Councilmember Linda Maio said that she would prefer not to have several versions of IRV in the county, noting that "we would like to make it compatible."
But Maio said that minor disagreements on the exact form should not be allowed to hold up implementation of the new system.
"Let’s just say that [the various implementing cities] don’t quite agree, but we come to something that’s close," she said. "It would be better to put it in place for a couple of cycles to see how it works in practice, and then work out the details."
An alternative, Maio said, might be to offer "a couple of ways for cities to implement IRV in their jurisdictions."
In either event, Maio said that it’s not possible to anticipate all of the problems that might occur with implementation.
"It’s a wholly new thing for us," she said. "We’re not sure of all the implications yet." (Return to top.)
Instant runoff heads to victory
by Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER, November 8, 2006. (Oakland Tribune)
OAKLAND — Measure O, which asked voters to change the City Charter to allow instant runoff voting, appeared headed to victory with 68 percent of the vote, according to early returns.
The change will allow voters to rank at least three candidates in order of their preference to avoid costly runoff elections. Supporters contend it will save money, increase turnout and discourage negative campaigning.
Voters would rank candidates first, second, third and so on. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-choice votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
Then, the votes of those who chose the last-place finisher as the top choice are transferred to their second choice. The ballots are then retabulated, and the process continues until a candidate wins more than 50 percent of the votes.
"It's a waste of money to go the other way. It's better to get straight to the point," said Michael Bishop, 42, who voted at McClymonds High School in West Oakland.
Under the current system, if none of the candidates for an office wins a simple majority of the vote in the June primary, the top two vote-getters face off in the November general election. Most recently, Oakland City Council candidate Aimee Allison and incumbent Patricia Kernighan were embroiled in an contentious, costly runoff for the District 2 seat.
Critics of the change said they're concerned it will be confusing and disenfranchise minority voters. The city plans to launch a campaign to educate voters before the change is implemented by Alameda County election officials.
In other races, 69 percent of voters had cast votes for Measure M, which will allow the board governing the Police and Fire Retirement System greater flexibility with its investments in an effort to earn a greater return. (Return to top.)
NANCY NADEL: Measure O is good for Oakland
by Oakland City Council Member Nancy J. Nadel,
November 2006 (Bay Area Business Woman)
On November 7, Oaklanders will have an opportunity to vote on
Measure O which will greatly improve elections by saving taxpayers up
to a half-million tax dollars per election cycle, improving the quality
of political campaigns, and by holding elections when turn-out is
The problem with our elections is that most Oakland officeholders are
elected in the June primary when only a third of eligible voters cast
ballots. Then only a small electorate decides the winners for everyone
else. Voter turnout in November elections is much higher, especially for
communities of color, where turnout is twice as high.
For those races that require both a June election and a November runoff,
administering two elections is expensive. The City Auditor has estimated
that local June elections cost taxpayers nearly a half-million dollars per
year -- money that could be better spent on other city services.
The solution? Measure O.
Measure O implements an innovative method called Instant Runoff Voting
(IRV) to achieve the worthy goal of electing winners who have majority
support in a single November election.
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 the ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of
first rankings, she, of course, wins. But if no candidate has a majority
of first rankings, the second and third rankings are used to determine
the majority winner, instantly eliminating the need for a separate June
By eliminating low-turnout June elections, Oakland will elect
officeholders who win a popular majority in November and ensure that more
voters have a say in electing local leaders. Oakland taxpayers will also
save the cost of a second election.
San Francisco has held two elections using IRV. Three exit polls were
conducted showing voters overwhelmingly liked it -- with a whopping 87
percent of all ethnic and racial groups responding that they were able
to understand the process. 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.
Measure O has broad support from local women politicians and
organizations, such as the League of Women Voters, National Women's
Political Caucus, and Black Women Organized for Political Action. I hope
you will join me in voting "Yes" on Measure O.
For more information, visit
Nancy Nadel is a member of the Oakland City Council.
(Return to top.)
EDITORIAL: 'Yes' to Measure O, instant runoff voting
by Editorial Board, October 25, 2006 (Oakland Tribune)
On Nov. 7, Oakland residents will get the chance to vote on a measure that
will save the city more than $400,000 every two years, probably increase voter
turnout and reduce the time candidates can go negative on each other.
For us, deciding to endorse Measure O was as simple as counting 1-2-3.
If approved, the measure would amend the City Charter to let voters rank
candidates in order of their preference during November general elections,
a process known as instant runoff voting.
In allowing local candidates to skip primaries, Measure O essentially eliminates
the need for costly runoff elections between politicians who couldn’t muster 50
percent-plus-one votes to win outright.
Under Measure O, voters would rank candidates first, second, third and so on.
In cases where no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first-choice
votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated. That candidate’s
votes then would be transferred to the voter’s second choice and the ballot
would be retabulated. The process continues until a candidate wins more than
50 percent of the votes.
Instant runoff voting in Oakland would begin as soon as Alameda County election
officials install new voting machines capable of ranking candidates, possibly
as early as November 2008. Critics of Measure O argue that instant runoff voting
would confuse many people and disenfranchise minority voters. Such thinking
implies some people and minorities aren’t intelligent or adaptable enough to
understand a different way of voting. That is ridiculous.
The concept of ranking candidates is no more difficult than learning how to use
different voting machines every few elections. Certainly, some of the money saved
-– City Auditor Roland Smith estimates a June primary costs the city $464,000 -–
could be spent to educate the public about the change.
When instant runoff voting was used in the November 2004 municipal elections in
San Francisco, we didn’t hear complaints of voters being disenfranchised.
Any means used to increase voter turnout while at the same time saving money
should be given a shot. We believe Measure O is a winner.
(Return to top.)
New instant runoff voting less costly?
by Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER, October 23, 2006
Measure O's passage would nix primary, rank candidates on one ballot
OAKLAND — Measure O asks voters to decide whether to change the City Charter
to allow them to rank at least three candidates in order of their preference
to avoid costly runoff elections.
While supporters contend instant runoff voting would be as easy as picking
your favorite sugary treat while increasing voter turnout, and save money and
reduce negative campaigning, critics voice concern the new system would be
confusing and disenfranchise minority voters.
If Measure O wins approval from a majority of voters Nov. 7, voters would
pick candidates, ranking them first, second and third, and so on. If no
candidate receives more than 50 percent of the first choice votes, the
candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated.
Then, the voters who chose the last-place finisher as their top choice would
have their vote transferred to their second choice. The ballots are then
retabulated, and the process continues until a candidate wins more than 50
percent of the votes.
Currently, if none of the candidates for an office wins a simple majority of
the vote in the June primary, the top two vote-getters face off on the
November General Election.
According to City Auditor Roland Smith, eliminating the June primary would
save the city $464,000, which will be offset by the cost to educate voters
about the change and unspecified implementation charges.
In the June election, only 46 percent of registered voters cast a ballot.
Although the race for mayor was decided then — albeit by a razor thin margin
— two offices will be decided by runoffs Nov. 7: the Grand Lake-Chinatown
seat on the Oakland City Council and the city auditor.
As of Sept. 30, measure supporters have raised $23,700, including $2,000
from the Green Party of California and $2,000 from Councilmember Nancy
Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland), a co-sponsor of the measure.
If approved by voters, the change would take effect as soon as Alameda County
election officials have new voting machines in place with the capability to
rank candidates. That could be as early as November 2008, officials said.
Measure supporters contend the change will raise voter turnout and reduce
There is no organized opposition to the measure.
Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) said the change would
help both racial and ideological minorities, and make it easier to recruit
candidates for elected office.
Kernighan also said she expected instant runoff voting to increase young
voter turnout and lessen the cynicism many feel about the political process.
However, Councilmembers Henry Chang (At-Large) and Larry Reid
(Elmhurst-East Oakland) said they opposed instant runoff voting because of
concerns it would disenfranchise minority voters, especially those who
struggle with English.
Instant runoff voting was successfully used in San Francisco's 2004 municipal
elections, and Berkeley voters have approved it for use as well.
E-mail Heather MacDonald at [email protected]
(Return to top.)
Measure O offers voters instant runoff elections
by Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer October 20, 2006. (San Francisco Chronicle)
Proponents of Oakland's Measure O say it will save taxpayers money, improve voter
turnout and reduce negative campaigning.
If approved by a simple majority of Oakland voters on Nov. 7, the measure would institute
instant runoff voting in Oakland, a method already used in San Francisco and approved for use
Its detractors include City Councilmen Larry Reid and Henry Chang, who voted against
switching to instant runoff voting when the City Council agreed in July to put the issue
on the ballot, saying it is too confusing and could lead to fewer people voting.
"It's not that complicated," said Judy Cox, a member of the Yes on Measure O executive
committee. "All voters have to do is pick their first, second and third choice, like we
do in a lot of areas of our lives, whether it be work goals, football pools. Even little
kids can rank their favorite toys."
Also called ranked-choice voting, the voting system allows voters to pick their top three
choices for any race. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with
the fewest first-place votes is dropped from the race. On the ballots where that candidate
was listed as first choice, the second choice moves to the top spot and the ballots are
recounted. The process continues until someone has a majority.
Instant runoff voting would end the city's use of primaries and consolidate elections in
the fall, when typically more people vote. That would save more than $300,000 per year, Cox said.
If approved, Oakland's instant runoff would begin in the November 2008 election.
"We think it's very desirable," said Cox, a member of the League of Women Voters
of Oakland, which has endorsed instant runoff voting, along with the Green Party
and many Democratic elected officials. "If we have IRV, we don't have to have a
second runoff election, so all local elections can move to November when almost
60 percent more people are voting."
Cox said research conducted by the pro-Measure O committee indicates minority
participation is higher in November elections.
Councilmember Reid said he's seen no evidence to show ranked-choice voting
increases voter participation.
"If you want to get people to participate in the political process, you have
to get them registered to vote and empower them to be part of the process," he said.
"Even groups that do this haven't been successful in increasing voter turnout. I
think people will be confused by instant runoff voting. Proponents also say it gives
people a choice. Every time I've run for office, people have had a choice. I've always
Oakland's primary election in June featured a mayoral race, three City Council
district races, a city auditor's race, and choices for county and statewide officeholders
and ballot measures. All told, 86,379 voters cast ballots in June's election -- 46 percent
of Oakland's registered voters.
Although voters elected a new mayor and re-elected two council incumbents, one
council seat and the auditor's race remain undecided because no candidate in those
two contests received more than 50 percent of the vote. Voters will pick between the
top two candidates in each of those races on Nov. 7.
E-mail Christopher Heredia at [email protected]
Page B - 4 (Return to top.)
WILSON RILES: Measure O Will Shorten Campaign Season
by Former Oakland Councilmember Wilson Riles Jr. October 4-10, 2006. (Oakland Post)
Nothing empowers voters more than knowing that their votes mean something. There must be a working
mechanics of elections to efficiently link transfers of wants and accountability. The current election
mechanics don't work too well.
Measure O corrects some of the problems in the system. Presently, Oakland elections start in June
when voter turnout is historically low. In last June's election, only a third (33%) of eligible
voters participated. Voter turnout in November elections (when national and state races are decided)
is significantly greater. Generally for Blacks, it is more than twice as high. It is a myth that local
issues automatically get lost amongst State and national ones. It depends on the candidates or the issue.
In addition, for races that may require a runoff to achieve a majority result, administering two
elections costs hundreds of thousands of tax dollars. We can ill afford spending public resources
unnecessarily. And holding two elections instead of one is costly to candidates, giving an advantage
to candidates that can raise more money. Face it, that ain't us.
The Measure O solution to these problems is to implement an innovative reform called Instant Runoff
Voting (IRV) to achieve a majority in a single multi-candidate election. Voters indicate their favorite
candidate, just like they do now, but at the same time they also rank their runoff choices, 1, 2, and 3
on their ballot. If a candidate receives a majority of first choice 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.
Another important benefit is that IRV will shorten the campaign season for local races, and decrease
some of the nasty campaigning. Nasty campaigning does not have to happen. Because candidates may need
the second or third rankings from the supporters of other candidates to win, they have to be careful
about they say about other candidates. This is exactly what happened were IRV has been implemented. Your
vote counts and is sought by every candidate, hoping to be your second or third choice if not your first.
San Francisco has held two elections 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 part of San Francisco with the highest concentrations of people of color
saw the greatest boost in voter turnout, four times higher in some neighborhoods.
Measure O also will prevent a split in the Black vote when two candidates present themselves. Jerry
Brown would not have had such as easy election in 1998 when there were six Blacks in the race. All too
often, 'wringers' are thrown into elections to divide up the vote of a particular community. This
tactic will become ineffective because those voters will be able to put both candidates either first or
second. The communityâ€™s preferences will not be lost.
Measure O is supported by Supervisor Keith Carson, soon-to-be-elected Assemblyperson Sandre
Swanson, the Alameda County Democratic Party, the Central Labor Council, the NAACP (Youth and
College Division), and the John George Democratic Club.
Vote for Measure O in November.
After that, we should directly take on the question of differences in political voice volume
due to the rich buying elections. Once Proposition 89, the Clean Money Initiative, wins on the
State level in November, we should implement a clean money (public funding) reform at the City
level as well. The price of freedom is eternal vigilance. (Return to top.)
A Guide to Oakland’s Ballot Measures M, N and O
by J. Douglas Allen-Taylor October 6, 2006. (Berkeley Daily Planet)
[Article discusses Measures M and N first.]
MEASURE O. Instant Runoff Voting Charter Amendment
(Shall the City Charter be amended to require the use of ranked choice voting, known sometimes
as instant runoff voting, to elect city offices by a majority vote at a November election without
holding a prior June election?)
Some voters are understandably confused by the measure, since many believe that Oakland City
Council already authorized ranked choice voting, sometimes called instant runoff voting (IRV).
However, that was only for special elections to fill the unexpired City Council term.
In addition, because Oakland runs its elections through the Alameda County Registrars office
and because Alameda County does not currently have machines capable of handling IRV, Oakland's
special election IRV provision—like Berkeley’s general IRV—has not yet been implemented.
Measure O would put Oakland in the same position as Berkeley—authorizing instant runoff voting
for all city offices (including the Mayor, Councilmembers, and School Board members) but not
being able to actually implement it until Alameda County purchases the machines capable of doing
Oakland now operates a system in which a "nominating election" is held in June. If a candidate
for city office wins a majority of the vote in that election, she or he wins office, and no further
voting is necessary. This is what happened in last June's mayoral race, where Ron Dellums won a
majority of the vote over several challengers.
If no candidate wins a majority of the vote in the "nominating election," the top two vote-getters
face each other in a November runoff. This is the case in Oakland City Council District Two, where
no candidate got a majority of votes in June, and therefore the top two candidates-incumbent Pat
Kernighan and challenger Aimee Allison-face each other again in a runoff. In this case, the candidate
who did not come in first or second in June-Shirley Gee-was eliminated and will not appear on the
Under the proposed instant runoff system, the June "nominating election" will be eliminated, and
only one city election will be held in November. If there are more than two candidates on the ballot
of a city office, voters will have the chance to "rank" their choices; that is, the voter will give
their first choice for the office a #1 ranking, their second choice a #2 ranking, their third choice a
#3 ranking, and so forth. The theory is that the voter will give a #1 ranking to the person they most
want to win the election, and give a #2 ranking to the person they want to win if their #1 choice doesn't
The votes are then counted in "rounds." If one candidate gets a majority of votes in the first "round"
of counting, that candidate automatically wins, and there is no more counting. However, if no candidate
gets a majority of the votes in the first round, the candidate getting the least amount of votes is dropped
off the ballot.
The voters who voted for the last-place candidate then have their second choice votes applied to the
remaining candidates. If any candidate now gets a majority of votes-including the second choice votes
from the ballots of people supporting the last place candidate-then that candidate wins the office.
The voting keeps going through new rounds—eliminating the last-place candidate each time and
applying their next-ranked votes-until someone eventually gets a majority, and wins the election.
Proponents of instant runoff voting for Oakland say it will save the city money by not forcing
a second, runoff voting when one candidate does not get a majority.
Opponents say that it is unfair to ask voters to make a second or third choice of candidates,
when all they want is to pick their top choice. Critics also say the system could end up in
confusion if it is not clear to voters how a particular candidate got enough votes to win.
The Metropolitan Greater Oakland Club, the Wellstone Democratic Renewal Club, and the John
George Democratic Club are all recommending a yes vote on Measure O.
(Return to top.)
Ming Pao Daily
CORINNE JAN: Measure O is Good for the Asian community
by Corinne Jan, October 2, 2006. (Ming Pao Daily) [ENGLISH TRANSLATION]
I have written previous pieces about voting. Here is another one!
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 Oakland elections
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%) 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
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
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 -- Measure O
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, 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.
(Return to top.)
JUDY COX: Instant runoff voting will boost democracy
by Judy Cox, September 29, 2006. (The Montclarion)
OAKLAND VOTERS have an important opportunity to enhance democracy in our city in November.
In July, the Oakland City Council voted 6-2 to put on the ballot an amendment to the city
charter which would implement the use of instant runoff voting for electing officials in Oakland.
This measure -- known as Measure O -- will be on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Our present system of electing local officials has serious problems. Most local officials are
elected in the June primary, when few people vote -- almost 60 percent more people vote in November
elections than in the June primaries, and the percentages of increase are even greater for people of
color. Under our present system, if no majority winner emerges in June, two candidates from a race
must participate in a second, costly, time-consuming runoff election to choose a winner. Runoffs
cost money: $200,000 to $300,000 for citywide runoffs, and thousands for district races. They also
put stress on candidates, particularly challengers who must keep jobs and lives going while funding
and running their campaigns.
The simple but revolutionary voting practice of instant runoff voting would help remedy the ills
of low voter turnout, costly runoff elections, and voter disgust and apathy. Instant runoff voting
is a voting method used to select a single winner from a list of two or more candidates in one
election. It lets voters register their first choice and then rank the other candidates. Voters can
hedge their bets and maintain influence on the outcome of the election, even when their first choice
doesn't win. By collecting more meaningful information from voters, it gives them a greater power
of choice and measures their will more accurately.
This process was invented in the United States and has been used effectively in San Francisco for
two elections. Berkeley voted by a landslide to use it in 2004, but has not yet implemented instant
runoff voting because of problems with the electronic voting machines.
In many ways, instant runoff voting is an antidote to the disease of negative campaigning. Under
the system, candidates would be less likely to engage in malicious campaigning because such tactics
would risk alienating the voters who support 'attacked' candidates.
Candidates would have incentives to focus on the substantive issues in a race and gain higher
rankings from those voters who might also be choosing another candidate. Voters would hear more about
a candidate's positions and get less junk mail assassinating the opposing candidates' character. Ultimately,
successful politicians would win by building coalitions and finding common ground, not tearing their
opponents down -- the same skills leaders must use to govern wisely and get things done.
Instant runoff voting would also stimulate more participation for candidates outside the predominant
two-party system. Third-party and community candidates could run without being labeled spoilers.
With only one election to run in (not two as is often the case in our present system), community and
third-party candidates have a better chance to raise the money needed to conduct a campaign. Competition,
economists say, eventually brings the greatest benefits to consumers.
Limited choices and negative campaigning are killing democracy. Holding elections when most
people don't vote is helping with the job (less than 40 percent of Oakland's registered voters
participated in last June's election). Requiring two elections to win office is driving away many
worthy potential candidates.
We can eliminate many of these serious problems and enhance democracy in Oakland by allowing
a greater portion of our registered voters to choose government leaders through instant runoff voting.
Vote for this important reform, which will significantly improve Oakland elections.
Judy Cox is on the executive committee for Oakland Instant Runoff Voting and can be reached at
[email protected] She is a former co-chair of the League of Women Voters of Oakland, which is a
founding supporter of Measure O. (Return to top.)
Electoral Reform on November Ballot in Oakland
by Jason Witmer, September 20, 2006. (North Gate News Online)
OAKLAND -- Voters here will decide in November whether to join San Francisco in adopting a new
method of voting that would streamline the process for choosing candidates for office.
The proposed system is known as 'instant runoff voting' and will be voted on in Measure O. If
it passes, it would negate the need for runoff and primary elections. Proponents say it will make
Oakland elections less expensive, faster, and more democratic. Detractors say instant runoff voting
could confuse voters and lead to less citizen participation in elections.
In instant runoff voting, voters rank their top three candidates. If no one wins 50 percent of the
vote in the first round, the candidate with the least amount of first place votes is eliminated. In
the next round every ballot counting for that candidate is given to the next-ranked candidate on that
ballot. The process continues until a majority winner emerges.
Perhaps the biggest benefit to Oakland would be increased voter participation, said Judy Cox, a
member of the executive committee of the Oakland Instant Runoff Voting Campaign. 'By cutting it down
to one election you get to put it in November when many more people vote,' she said. 'This is
especially true in communities of color [in Oakland] where more than twice as many people vote in November.'
Trimming the process to a November election could also save time and money. Since 2000, the City of
Oakland has had to hold three runoffs for City Council seats alone. Each additional runoff costs the
city between $180,000 and $200,000, Deputy City Clerk on Elections Marjo Keller estimates.
Instant runoff voting would also decrease mudslinging in a political race, said John Russo, the
Oakland City Attorney. 'Just having just come off a campaign where there were thousands of dollars
spent in negative campaigns against me, I'm interested in promoting a change to the system that would
make it more difficult for candidates to participate in trash talking,' he said.
Russo said when candidates need second place votes, they are less likely to attack the personal
life of other candidates, which might alienate their followers. He also said that in instant runoff
voting third-party candidates could run without being considered spoilers.
Some, however, believe that a change could make voting more difficult. Oakland Councilman Henry
Chang said the current system has worked for years and some segments of the population, especially
elderly Asian citizens, would have trouble figuring out the new system.
'It's hard to explain to them how to vote on a regular system,' he said. 'I don't think it's
the right time to add anything to make it harder. It's going to take time to really educate the
people on how we're doing this. It's going to turn off a lot of people.'
Over 85 percent of 2005 voters in San Francisco said they understood runoff voting, a study
by the Public Research Institute found. However, levels of understanding were lowest among those
with low levels of education and those for whom Chinese was their first language. San Francisco
first used runoff voting in 2004.
Oakland councilwoman Desley Brooks said that more education should happen before the measure is
implemented. 'They say it will increase participation in voting, but there hasn't been a lot of
education by the groups that are pushing for it,' she said. 'I think the education phase should've
been addressed earlier, before it is voted on.' Brooks said she hasn't yet decided which way she
San Francisco voters said they preferred runoff voting by a margin of three to one, the Public
Research Institute found. In the 2005 race for San Francisco city treasurer, 57 percent of voters
reported voting for three candidates, while 33 percent selected only one candidate. (Return to top.)
PAT KERNIGHAN: Oakland Voters To Decide Whether to Join Other California Cities in Using Instant Runoff Voting
by City Councilmember Pat Kernighan, August 8, 2006. (California Progress Report)
Last week, Councilmember Nancy Nadel and I succeeded in persuading a majority of our fellow Oakland City Councilmembers to put a measure on the November 2006 ballot allowing Oakland voters to decide whether they want to implement Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) for City elections. We were backed up by great advocacy and election expertise by several community-based organizations. I've been working toward this moment for the last five years and, frankly, the going has been very slow.
It's high time Oakland voters had the chance. In November 2000 voters approved Measure I, which provided that alternative legal voting methods such as instant runoff voting (IRV) be used to the greatest extent feasible in order to increase voter participation. In January 2002 an Elections Task Force, on which I participated, submitted a report recommending in part that the June Nominating elections with their notoriously low turnouts be eliminated by consolidating all municipal office elections into the November General election and by implementing IRV.
Last month Alameda County, which conducts the City's elections, eliminated one of the two remaining hurdles. The County just signed a contract for voting machines and software to support IRV. The vendor is required to support IRV beginning in November 2007, a deadline we will work to meet.
Only one hurdle remains. In order to implement IRV for Oakland elections, voters must pass a Charter Amendment. The City Council vote to put the matter on the November ballot puts the decision in voters' hands, where it should be. If voters approve the measure, the first IRV election would take place in November 2008, eight years after they approved Measure I.
The Importance of Instant Runoff Voting
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. Over the past eight election cycles, voter turnout consistently has been higher in the General than in the Nominating elections, ranging from 23% to 96% higher. Often, important positions - Mayor, City Councilmembers, City Attorney, City Auditor - have been decided in the low-turnout June Nominating Elections. Too many voters sit out these elections ? only 46% voted in the June 2006 elections. Thus, they lose the opportunity to influence the outcome and, as a consequence, a minority of voters makes the decision.
Because of the depressed voter turn out in primary elections, especially in areas of Oakland where minority and immigrant populations predominate, the implementation of IRV can substantially increase voter turn out for all demographics, including minority and immigrant populations. Otherwise, many of the offices up for votes will be determined without the input of a vast majority of the immigrant and minority population.
Increasingly, I'm concerned about young voters turned off by electoral politics. I want to encourage them to participate in local elections. IRV would appeal to those who sit out elections because they feel their preferred candidates are considered long shots. Now they can vote their hearts, knowing that their votes will not be discounted simply because their preferred candidates are not likely to win.
Finally, there are important benefits to taxpayers and voters. IRV saves municipalities and taxpayers the costs associated with Nominating elections.
For these reasons I'll be urging voters to vote for IRV as I campaign this Fall. I'd like to acknowledge the considerable help of the League of Women Voters, Common Cause, FairVote.org and several other organizations in preparing legislation and a background report, mounting press conferences, and answering my colleagues' questions. If you'd like to read the report submitted by Councilmember Nadel and me on the Pros/Cons of Preferential Voting/Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) dated June 29, 2006, click here.
Patricia Kernighan was elected to represent District 2 on the Oakland City Council in May 2005. During her first year in office, she has fought for safer and cleaner neighborhoods, jobs, affordable housing, and after school programs for youth. Among the key priorities for her first full-term are to expand after-school and children's recreation programs, to continue to improve neighborhood parks and playgrounds, and to fully implement community policing.
(Return to top.)
JOHN RUSSO: Instant runoff voting is right way to go for Oakland
by Oakland City Attorney John Russo, July 24, 2006. (Oakland Tribune)
The Oakland City Council had the wisdom and foresight to realize instant runoff voting is an essential first step on the road back to a healthy democracy. MY WORD
IN LAST month's primary election, California suffered its lowest voter turnout in 25 years. Less than 30 percent of the eligible voting population made decisions for all of California.
State voters are tired of going to the polls, and they are tired of negative campaigns. In just four years Californians have cast ballots in seven elections. Interest groups with partisan axes to grind in both parties spent wildly and shamelessly to distort the records and slander the character of those candidates they opposed.
Luckily, the Oakland City Council has decided to support a simple yet revolutionary voting practice that would help remedy the ills of voter disgust and apathy - instant runoff voting. This is a voting method used to select a single winner from a list of two or more candidates. Instant runoff voting would let voters register their first choice and then rank the other candidates. Voters could, in effect, hedge their bets and maintain influence even when their first choice doesn't win.
By collecting more meaningful information from voters, it gives them a greater power of choice and measures their will more accurately. This process was invented in the United States and has been used effectively in Australia and Ireland for many decades.
In many ways, instant runoff voting is an antidote to the disease of negative campaigning. Under the system, candidates would be less likely to engage in malicious campaigning because such tactics would risk alienating the voters who support "attacked" candidates.
Candidates would have incentives to focus on the substantive issues in a race and gain higher rankings from those voters who might also be choosing another candidate. Voters would hear more about a candidate's positions and get less junk mail assassinating the opposing candidates' character. Ultimately, successful politicians would win by building coalitions and finding common ground, not tearing their opponents down - the same skills leaders must use to govern wisely and get things done.
Opponents argue that instant runoff voting is confusing and would disenfranchise minority populations. This is blatant elitism. Instant runoff voting is as easy as 1-2-3. Literally, the voter chooses her first, second and third choices.
Some argue the ranking system is difficult for voters to determine how their ranked votes are to be counted. Those folks have obviously never been in a neighborhood bar during Week 15 of the NFL season when patrons of seemingly average intelligence are discussing possible playoff scenarios. Most assuredly anyone who can understand the complexities of potential "wild card" match-ups will find instant runoff voting calculations a snap.
Instant runoff voting would also stimulate more participation for candidates outside the predominant two-party system. Third-party candidates could run without being labeled spoilers. Competition, economists say, eventually brings the greatest benefits to consumers.
Yet Republican and Democratic functionaries don't want free-market rivalries extended to politics. Apologists for the status quo believe that offering the "lesser of two evils" is the best we can do in our democratic process. Instant runoff voting would allow voters a greater range of choices and representation.
We may say voting is sacred to our democratic process but we treat it as a boring and outdated irrelevance unworthy of real resources or innovation. Limited choices and negative campaigning is killing democracy. The Oakland City Council had the wisdom and foresight to realize instant runoff voting is an essential first step on the road back to a healthy democracy.
John Russo is Oakland's city attorney.
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Electorate to decide on runoffs
by Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER, July 20, 2006. (Oakland Tribune)
Instant voting plan on fall ballot, if approved, could save about $200,000 in election costs
OAKLAND - Voters will decide in November whether to change the City Charter to allow them to rank up to three candidates in order of their preference to avoid costly run-off elections.
While supporters said instant runoff voting would be as easy as picking a favorite ice cream flavor while increasing voter turnout and saving money, several council members said they were concerned the new system would disenfranchise minority voters.
Councilmember Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland), a measure co-sponsor, said just 46 percent of voters cast a ballot in the June primary, clear evidence that Oakland's electoral system is broken.
"Change can be scary," Nadel said. "But it is our responsibility to fix the system."
If the system wins approval, voters would pick three candidates, ranking them first, second and third, officials said. If their first choice doesn't win a majority of votes in the first round of counting, votes for their second, then third candidates are tallied.
Currently, if none of the candidates for an office wins a simple majority of the vote in the June primary, the two top vote-getters face off in the November general election.
Runoff elections typically cost the city about $200,000, money better spent on a host of other projects and programs, Nadel said.
Councilmember Desley Brooks (Eastmont-Seminary) said the people should decide how to elect their representatives. However, Brooks said she was not convinced instant run-off voting would be best for communities not already engaged in the political process.
"I believe in democracy," Brooks said.
Nadel and other supporters of instant run-off voting said they would heed concerns expressed about the need to educate voters about the change. Although such a campaign could cost as much as $400,000, the council has not set aside any funds for the effort.
Brooks said the campaign to educate voters about the potential change should start immediately.
If approved by voters, the change would take effect as soon as Alameda County election officials have new voting machines in place with the capability to rank candidates. That could be as early as November 2008, officials said.
Councilmember Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown), who faces a runoff in November against Aimee Allison, a businesswoman and member of the Green Party, said the change would help both racial and ideological minorities, and make it easier to recruit candidates for office.
In addition, Kernighan said she expected instant runoff voting to increase the turnout of young voters and lessen the cynicism that many feel about the political process.
Councilmembers Henry Chang Jr. (At Large) and Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) voted against putting the measure on the Nov. 7 ballot. Chang said he was concerned it would especially hurt elderly Chinese voters who struggle with English.
"They're going to be so lost that they won't vote at all, or they'll just vote for one," Chang said. "They're going to be very, very confused."
Reid said he doubted supporter claims that it would increase turnout of minority voters.
Former Councilmember Wilson Riles Jr. said it was insulting to think white voters are more capable of understanding the change than minority voters.
Although Council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale) initially opposed instant runoff voting, he said Riles and other supporters had worn him down after inundating his office with information about how the system worked in other cities, including San Francisco, in the 2004 election.
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Oakland to vote to eliminate midyear primaries
by Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer, July 19, 2006. (San Francisco Chronicle)
OAKLAND -- Oakland voters in November will determine whether to do away with midyear primaries and move to a system of ranking their picks for local elected offices, the City Council decided Tuesday.
The council, by a vote of 7-2, adopted a proposal to ask voters whether they want to switch to ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, which proponents say increases voter participation in elections, but which opponents say is too confusing and could lead to fewer people casting votes.
Several other cities, including San Francisco and Berkeley, have adopting ranked-choice voting.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to pick their top three choices, in order of preference, for any race.
If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is dropped from the list, the second-choice candidates on those ballots are moved to the top spot and the ballots are recounted. The process continues until someone has a majority of the vote.
Proponents say instant-runoff voting helps increase voter turnout, especially in minority communities whose members show up at the polls in greater numbers in fall elections. Advocates say it also reduces candidates' need to raise money, thus allowing them to focus on issues in a campaign.
Council members Larry Reid and Henry Chang opposed switching to ranked-choice voting. Critics say the ranked-choice process can confuse voters who speak limited English.
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OAKLAND Voters may get to decide changes to elections format
by Christopher Heredia, Chronicle Staff Writer, July 18, 2006. (San Francisco Chronicle)
The Oakland City Council will consider a proposal today to put on the November ballot a measure to eliminate local primary elections and move to a ranked-choice voting system.
Proponents of the change say Oakland voters should decide whether to follow other cities, including San Francisco and Berkeley, in adopting ranked-choice, which is also known as instant-runoff voting, and consolidate local elections in the fall, when research shows more people vote.
Detractors say instant-runoff voting could confuse voters and reduce the number of ballots cast. Oakland's most recent primary election, in June, featured a mayoral race, three City Council district races, a city auditor's race, and choices for county and statewide officeholders and ballot measures. All told, 86,379 voters cast ballots in June's election -- 46 percent of Oakland's registered voters.
While voters elected a new mayor and re-elected two council incumbents, one council seat and the auditor's race remain undecided because no candidate in those two contests received more than 50 percent of the vote. Voters will go to the polls in November to pick between the top two candidates in each of those races.
Ranked-choice voting allows voters to name their top three choices for any race. If no one gets more than 50 percent of the vote, the candidate with the fewest first-place votes is dropped from the list, the second-choice candidates on those ballots are moved to the top spot and the ballots are recounted. The process continues until someone has a majority of the vote.
Proponents say instant-runoff voting increases voter participation -- particularly in minority communities, whose members turn out in greater numbers in fall elections -- and reduces candidates' need to raise money, therefore allowing them to focus on issues in a campaign.
"This measure will not only result in more people voting, it will save us the $200,000 we spend on primary elections -- money we could put into voter education," said Councilwoman Nancy Nadel, who ran unsuccessfully against Mayor-elect Ron Dellums in June. "Once people are more informed about instant-runoff voting, we could use that money for public financing of campaigns or filling potholes."
Councilman Larry Reid, who opposes eliminating primary elections, said the current system works. He asked the city clerk's office to survey voters about why they don't participate in elections and implored his colleagues to work harder to educate residents about the need to vote and participate in civic life.
"What we need to do, especially those of us of color, is more reaching out, talking to communities of color about how to use the political process and the importance of participating in the process," Reid said.
Councilman Henry Chang said he opposes switching to ranked-choice voting because it might confuse elderly, non-English-speaking voters.
Chang said efforts to educate Chinatown residents about voting have increased participation, and he would be reluctant to do anything to complicate matters.
"I work with the elderly in Chinatown," Chang said. "I know they're going to be confused by instant-runoff voting. It will discourage them from voting at a time when their numbers are increasing."
Christopher Jerdonek, California representative for FairVote, a Maryland group that works to increase voter turnout, countered that research shows non-English-speaking voters understand ranked-choice voting as well as English speakers do.
"Voter education is a big part of the implementation of instant-runoff voting," Jerdonek said. "It has many prongs, including mailers, radio announcements, also grants to community organizations and publicity in ethnic media, so once people get to the polls, they have a good understanding of how the system works."
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JOANNE McKRAY: Instant Runoff Voting --Coming to Oakland?
by Joanne McKray, July 16, 2006. (California Progress Report)
Readers of the California Progress Report had the opportunity last week to read an excellent article by John Russo, Oakland City Attorney and recent candidate for State Assembly, describing how Instant Runoff Voting works and arguing that its adoption would constitute a step towards a healthier democracy.
The City of Oakland could be on the verge of taking that step.
IRV's advocates have been promoting adoption of IRV in Oakland for years, beginning with the voters' passage of Measure I in 2000 which instructed the city to try new voting methods, such as Instant Runoff Voting, in special elections. Subsequently in 2002 an Election Reform Taskforce advised the use of IRV in all city elections. It hasn't happened.
At the moment, however, Oakland is as close to IRV implementation as it's ever been. Councilmembers Nancy Nadel and Pat Kernighan are sponsoring a Charter Amendment designating that IRV be used for all local elections and asking the City Council to place it on the ballot. But the road to success is a rocky one.
The first stop on the road has been the Rules Committee, where for two weeks the IRV measure stalled. Then, perhaps influenced by severe criticism in the press, committee chair Council President Ignacio De La Fuente changed course and indicated that he would pass it on to the full Council for its consideration on July 18.
The Council will be taking its yearly break soon thereafter, and the deadline to place the measure on this November's ballot will occur while the Council is away. Therefore next Tuesday's meeting will be the last opportunity for Councilmembers to vote, on giving Oakland citizens the chance to decide whether they want it, in time for IRV to be used in the November 2008 election.
If IRV passes in November 2006 there will be two years to implement an extensive program of voter education. Such a program may be long overdue.
Although no records are kept as to the number of mistakes voters presently make to produce invalid choices, anecdotal evidence from those who count the ballots indicates that they are very common. The subject-matter of the educational program can be expanded to cover more than just the 1-2-3 of Instant Runoff Voting with groups that need general help in handling voting. Oakland can benefit from the experience of San Francisco, which has recently executed just such an educational program reaching a diversity of ethnic groups speaking a variety of languages.
Many benefits would flow from the passage of IRV.
~ Greater turnout. Local elections could be held in November when voter turnout is nearly 60% higher than it is in June when local elections are presently held.
~ More representative government. City officials would be chosen by a group much more representative of Oakland's citizenry than now, because many more minority voters would participate in the election.
~ Majority winners. All city officials would be chosen by a majority of the voters; special elections would no longer produce winners garnering as little as 29% of the vote.
~ Money- saving for candidates. Community leaders with good ideas and a constituency but without deep pockets could enter races knowing they would have to pay for only one election, not two.
~ Shorter campaigns. Voters would not have to endure 10 to 12 months of local campaigning.
~ Elimination of spoilers. Voters favoring less known candidates could cast their first choice vote for whom they wanted, without fearing that, by doing so, they would be actually be helping the candidate they least favored.
~ Friendlier, more issue-oriented campaigns. Because candidates would want to receive 2nd or 3rd choice votes, talking about issues rather than slinging mud at opponents would be encouraged.
~ Money-saving for taxpayers. Oakland would save up to $200,000 for every runoff avoided. After an initial investment to pay for an education campaign and perhaps a share of the costs of new technology, the city would begin to save hundreds of thousands of dollars.
If you'd like to see Oakland adopt IRV for its city elections and are an Oakland resident, you can help make it happen.
Joanne McKray is a member of the Oakland IRV Coalition, State Board Member of Common Cause, and active in the League of Women Voters.
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City voters may yet see ranked picks
by Heather MacDonald, STAFF WRITER, June 30, 2006. (Oakland Tribune)
Oakland council will discuss a possible instant runoff measure
OAKLAND - The City Council's Rules Committee relented Thursday and agreed to consider placing a measure on the November ballot amending the City Charter to allow instant runoff voting.
The powerful Rules Committee, chaired by council President Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), will take up the issue again July 13.
The full council is scheduled to discuss instant runoff voting at its July 18 meeting.
In instant runoff voting, rather than voting for one candidate, a voter ranks three candidates in the order of his or her preference. If the first choice fails to win a majority of votes in the first round of tabulations, votes for a voter's second and then third choices are counted.
A week ago, De La Fuente, along with Councilmembers Larry Reid (Elmhurst-East Oakland) and Henry Chang Jr. (At-Large), declined to schedule a discussion. De La Fuente said he was concerned instant runoff voting, also known as rank-choice voting, would disenfranchise minority voters.
Reid says he also opposes instant runoff voting.
Councilmember Jane Brunner (North Oakland) said she favored placing the issue on the council's agenda.
The charter amendment was introduced by Councilmembers Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) and Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown). Kernighan faces a runoff against local businesswoman Aimee Allison in her bid for re-election.
The proposal would move local elections to the November election from the June primary, when voter turnout is historically much lower, and save the nearly $200,000 runoff elections cost.
Instant runoff voting has been used in Berkeley and San Francisco, and it is supported by a consortium of local groups, including the League of Women Voters.
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EDITORIAL: Instant runoff voting deserves consideration
by Editorial Board, June 29, 2006. (Oakland Tribune)
DEMOCRACY took a beating at last Thursday's Oakland Rules and Legislation Committee, with City Council President Ignacio De La Fuente delivering a below-the-belt blow.
As chairman of the committee, De La Fuente essentially used his weight to squelch an instant runoff voting proposal from going to the full City Council for debate. He was joined by fellow committee members Larry Reid and Henry Chang in voting against consideration of a proposed charter amendment that would allow residents to decide this fall whether they want to try instant runoff voting in the November 2008 election.
Never mind that Oakland residents already indicated they're open to the idea by having approved instant voting in special elections.
Supporters of the proposal, led by a coalition of organizations, didn't even get much of a chance to make their case before the committee.
Nor did De La Fuente or his colleagues offer a very convincing reason for killing the proposal in its tracks, other than a vague suggestion that minorities might be disenfranchised, presumably because they're less likely to understand the process.
Yes, instant runoff voting is different, and change is always a little uncomfortable at first. But the concept isn't that difficult to understand - basically, voters can select up to three candidates, ranking them first, second or third in order of preference. If their first choice doesn't win a majority of votes after the initial tally, votes for their second and then third choices would be counted until someone emerges as the clear winner.
This method would eliminate costly runoff elections required when a leading candidate falls just short of collecting more than 50 percent of the vote. Plus, instant runoff voting elections would be held in November instead of June, when turnout historically is low.
Oakland wouldn't be blazing the path, either. Berkeley approved instant runoff voting in 2004, with voters in San Leandro, Santa Clara County and Davis following suit. Other cities, including San Francisco, already are using the system.
The three committee members should reconsider their vote and allow a full-fledged discussion of the merits and drawbacks of instant runoff voting. What are they afraid of?
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EDITORIAL: Instant runoffs: Their time will come
by Editorial Board, November 5, 2005. (Oakland Tribune)
EVERY CITY that's tried it loves it. Instant-runoff voting has been a hit from Santa Monica to Humboldt County. Voters love it. Local election officials swear by it. Candidates sing its praises. So why are state legislators refusing to let it get out of committee?
Sen. Debra Bowen, D-Marina del Rey, chairwoman of the Senate Elections and Reapportionment Committee, introduced a bill allowing instant-runoff voting in cities and counties that have approved it.
Instant-runoff voting allows voters to chose a first, second and third choice of a candidate. If their first choice doesn't win a majority of votes, the votes for the second and third candidates are counted.
Oakland City Councilwoman Pat Kernighan said she would have preferred the system when she was elected to a vacant seat last spring. Running against a number of candidates, she won with 29 percent of the vote. She said she would feel more comfortable with a higher percentage, which she likely would have received if voters second and third choices were counted.
In Berkeley, vice-mayor Kriss Worthington pointed out that instant-runoff voting saves the cost of a separate runoff election and encourages candidates to reach out to potential voters outside their base. He thinks it would result in less contentious campaigns.
Berkeley approved the system by 72 percent. Voters in San Leandro, Oakland, Santa Clara County and Davis also have overwhelmingly approved it in votes over the last few years.
Alameda County officials have been waiting for the state government to provide some guidance, either through laws passed by legislators or regulations established by the Secretary of State's office.
After last month's committee meeting, county officials will have to turn to the Secretary of State's office. The other members of the elections and reapportionment committee said they don't support the law.
The biggest concern seems to be that it would give candidates outside of the two major parties a better chance.
That strikes us as an awfully short-sighted and self-serving rationale. If the voters like the system, and it saves money, legislators should put aside their personal concerns. If major party candidates are afraid to compete with third party and independent candidates, rigging the system in their favor isn't the answer. We think the inclusion of more parties and ideas will broaden our political debates, increase voter interest and participation and strengthen our democracy.
We urge cities and counties to continue using instant-runoff voting. Perhaps the growing number of elections using the system and the sheer volume of positive results will force the state to provide guidelines. Our state legislators shouldn't be so small-minded; they should put the good of the state before their petty interests.
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Candidates say 15% could be enough today; Instant runoff would be fairer, all 8 agree
by Jim Herron Zamora, Chronicle Staff Writer, May 17, 2005. (San Francisco Chronicle)
All eight candidates vying for an Oakland City Council seat in a special mail-only election that ends today say they favor instant runoffs instead of the current voting system that could allow one of them to win outright with as little as 15 percent of the vote.
"This present system does not allow a majority of the voters to elect a candidate," said Pat Kernighan, one of eight candidates hoping to succeed Councilman Danny Wan, who resigned in January after representing the district that largely straddles the northern, southern and eastern shores of Lake Merritt.
The current system "may or may not turn out in my best interests, but I think it is not the most democratic way to count ballots, especially with no runoff," Kernighan said.
Under the current election laws, there is no runoff, so the candidate with the most votes wins. But with eight candidates, the vote could be spread quite thinly, potentially allowing a hopeful with around 15 percent of the votes to win the vacant seat.
"The winner-take-all system doesn't always reflect the preferences of the voters," said candidate Paul Garrison. "Wouldn't it be helpful to know everyone's first, second and choice? ... We could count those votes until someone had a majority."
Candidate David Kakishiba agreed, saying: "Any candidate needs a mandate -- I think getting 50 percent plus one is important. For special elections, we definitely should do this."
The special election ending today marks the first time that Oakland has ever elected a city official by a mail-only ballot. Ballots were mailed to voters more than a month ago, and as of last week, the elections office had received more than 7,000 of 27,000 eligible voter ballots.
Candidate Todd Plate said that under the current system, if 80 percent of the voters pick someone other than the winner, "you really can't claim much of a mandate," Plate said.
The candidates do not agree on a specific way to change the voting system, but they all agreed they would like to see some kind of ranked voting or preferential balloting system similar to those used in San Francisco and Berkeley.
Under instant runoffs -- also known as ranked voting -- voters rank choices for the office being decided, and if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote, the lowest vote-getter is eliminated, and the votes are redistributed by rank until someone receives a simple majority of votes.
Advocates say ranked-choice voting avoids costly runoff elections and makes elections fairer.
Candidate Shirley Gee has been promoting ranked voting for more than a decade while involved in a task force on the Oakland chapter of the League of Women Voters. She said this election -- regardless of who wins -- would provide proof that the city needs to try something new at least in special elections.
Regularly scheduled City Council races take place in even numbered years and coincide with state and federal elections, with a general election in March or June and then a runoff between the two top finishers in November.
Some candidates, including Aimee Allison and Peggy Moore, would like all city elections changed to ranked voting.
"Elections should ensure majority rule and give citizens confidence that every vote counts," Allison writes on her Web site.
Candidate Justin Horner said that ranked voting would most likely be in Oakland's future but that the city should be cautious and make sure not to create any new problems with a ranked voting system that is complicated or confusing.
"I think the results of the election are really going to show the need for some type of instant runoff system," Horner said. "But we should look at what others have done. The more serious problem is that not enough people are voting. You don't want a system that is going to disenfranchise people."
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Instant-runoff voting urged for Alameda County
by Ian Hoffman, STAFF WRITER, April 22, 2005. (Oakland Tribune)
Spurred by the nations largest experiment in instant runoff voting in San Francisco, activists and a handful of local politicians demanded the latest flavor of democracy for Alameda County voters.
Protesters criticized the countys reluctance to embrace instant- runoff voting, saying that casting ballots for multiple, ranked candidates would save money and foster more issue-driven political campaigns.
But on Tuesday they saved the sharpest ridicule for the countys voting vendor, Diebold Election Systems Inc.
In 2002, Diebold promised Alameda County that its new touchscreen voting machines, purchased for $12 million, can easily be programmed for preferential voting. But recently Diebold and county elections officials have said new instant-runoff software for the touchscreens will cost $2 million more.
Its insulting to us to be told its going to cost $2 million, said Kenneth Mostern, who ran a successful campaign in Berkeley to rally support for instant-runoff voting. Seventy-two percent of voters backed the measure more than a year ago.
"We passed it. Its the law. It has to be put in place," Mostern told a cheering audience of 45 instant runoff protesters outside county offices.
With the county facing a $92 million deficit this year, county politicians dont know how theyll pay for instant-runoff voting. But Keith Carson, president of the county supervisors, is backing the idea.
Two million dollars is the ridiculous figure that Diebold has quoted, said Carsons chief of staff Rodney Brooks. I cant think of anything thats easy that costs $2 million.
With instant-runoff voting, voters pick their first, second and third choices in each race. Backers say the system forces politicians to broaden their appeal and woo voters beyond their own factions.
Oakland, for example, is holding a special city council election to fill its District II seat. In the current field of eight candidates, the winner could claim the seat with as little as 12 percent of the vote.
Green Party candidate Aimee Allison said instant-runoff voting in the District II seat would encourage more people to run and campaign with other candidates on issues of wide appeal. Coalition building is a way that we as a community move forward, she said.
County elections officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday. But theyve taken a wait-and-see approach, only recently gathering city clerks to study the issue in a panel that advocates say has been closed to public attendance.
Supporters say San Franciscos experiment last year was a resounding success. On the other hand, instant-runoff proponents pressed so aggressively to implement the system that the countys vendor, Elections Systems and Software, never performed full testing before the election.
A bad line of code prevented the computer from calculating the ranked choices beyond 10,000 votes, and new software had to be written on the fly to get the final tally.
Exit polls showed a majority of voters were pleased with the new system, however.
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AIMEE ALLISON: Oakland Special Election: A Better Way
by City Council District 2 Candidate Aimee Allison, April 19, 2005. (Berkeley Daily Planet)
Elections should ensure majority rule and give citizens confidence that every vote counts. In Oakland, we could be using the best that democracy has to offer.
City officials have so far passed up this opportunity. I am one of eight candidates running to represent District 2 on the Oakland City Council. The person who gets the most votes will win. But with so many people in the race, the winner could take office with as little as 12 percent of the vote. That's hardly democratic.
We've seen this problem before. Four years ago, in a special election for Oakland City Council in District 6, the winner emerged from a pool of candidates with 33 percent of the vote. The second-place candidate was close behind at 31 percent. If the city had held a runoff betwee n these top two candidates, it's anybody's guess who might have won. Instead, two-thirds of the voters simply went unrepresented.
In the old days, when an Oakland city council member stepped down in the middle of a term, the council would appoint a repla cement. But Oakland overwhelmingly passed Measure I, which amended the city charter to provide for a special election by the voters. The amendment leaves it to the city council to set the exact terms of the election. The best method by far would be instan t runoff voting (IRV).
I advocate instant runoff voting (IRV), a voting system that our city charter specifically allows.
Under IRV, voters rank candidates in order of choice: 1, 2, 3, and so on. The winning candidate must have a majority of votes. If anyone receives more than half of the first-choice votes, that candidate is elected. If not, the last-place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all those who picked the losing candidate have their votes reassigned to their next choice. The ballots are counted again. The process of eliminating the last-place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote.
IRV does more than assure majority rule. It also allows citizens to vote their c onscience. In a race where candidates 1 and 2 seem to be leading and candidate 3 looks a little shakier, a voter can comfortably pick candidate 3 as the favorite without worrying that she is spoiling the chances for her second choice.
In addition, IRV di scourages negative campaigning and makes candidates focus instead on the issues. Why? Because the competing candidates must keep in mind voters who might be choosing someone else first. Candidates who insult their opponents are hurting their own chances o f winning.
IRV is a time-tested system of voting used in a number of other democracies, including England, Australia, and New Zealand.
In addition, IRV has gained a foothold in the United States. Last November, voters in San Francisco were overwhelmingl y satisfied with the election when they used IRV to elected their district supervisors.
Oakland's city charter allows the city council to institute IRV for special elections. What is the council waiting for? As a council member, I will do my utmost to pu t the system in place. It's an easy and efficient way to ensure majority rule.
Aimee Allison is a City Council candidate in Oakland's District 2.
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