At-A-Glance: IRV Economics

  • Currently, when no candidate receives a majority a runoff must be held, which can cost up to $500,000
  • Because IRV has voters rank candidates, additional runoff elections are not necessary, therefore saving money and time
  • In San Francisco, implementing IRV saved around $1 million after only its first use
  • Oakland could expect to save hundreds of thousands of dollars on avoided runoff elections from the third time a runoff otherwise would have occured

IRV: Dollars and Sense

Wasted Money Instant Runoff Voting has the potential to save Oakland hundreds of thousands of dollars within a few years of implementation. Under the current election system, if no candidate in a local election receives over 50 percent of the vote, a costly runoff election must be held. Because IRV asks voters to rank their preferences, a runoff can occur instantly without the need to hold and pay for a second election.

It cost the city of San Francisco $2.4 million dollars to implement IRV: $1.6 million went to upgrade voting machines and $800,000 to educate people on the new system. However, this one-time expenditure was little compared to the estimated $3 million it would've cost the city to hold a traditional runoff. In the first year of its use, IRV saved the city of San Francisco $1.2 million dollars. These savings will quickly be compounded because, due to IRV, 2004 was the first time since 1998 that San Francisco did not have to hold its December runoff.

For the past decade, on average one out of every four Oakland elections resulted in a runoff. The city must pay the county the added costs for this second election. With IRV, Oakland could save this money. According to the City Auditor, if Measure O passes, "the City of Oakland will save approximately $463,997 each year by eliminating June elections for candidates." These savings could be put to better use on other city priorities.

There would, however, be one-time implementation costs to upgrade Oakland's election systems to support IRV and voter education costs. On June 8, 2006, the Alameda County Board of Supervisors approved a $350,000 contract to purchase IRV-ready voting equipment by November 2007. (This is part of a much larger $13 million contract to the county's new election systems vendor, Sequoia Voting Systems.) It is likely that the county will pay for the IRV-compatability upgrade, and not Oakland voters, especialy since two other Alameda County cities have already amended their charters to use IRV (Berkeley and San Leandro). As to education, if Oakland spent proportionally as much as San Francisco did on voter outreach, it could likely implement IRV city-wide at a cost of $400,000.

By these figures, Oakland could purchase IRV-compatible voting equipment for the whole county and do wide voter outreach and most likely still see cost savings by the second election. Within decades, IRV could potentially save the city millions of dollars.

  • San Francisco

    Population: 733,072
    One-time cost to implement IRV city-wide: $2.4 million
    Cost of each runoff before IRV: $3 million

  • Alameda County

    Population: 1,461,030
    One-time estimated cost to implement IRV count-wide: $350 thousand + education costs

  • Oakland

    Population: 399,484
    Hypothetical one-time cost to implement IRV city-wide: $400,000 (education only)
    Cost of each runoff without IRV: $500,000

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