On Tuesday, January 5th, 2010, Oakland’s City Council finally voted to start using Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). This means that Oakland will no longer have June Primary Elections for local elected officials, but rather a ranked choice election of candidates, including Mayor, in November. Various governmental and community groups will work together starting Spring 2010 to educate voters about the changes they can expect at the ballot box.
Although Measure O was passed in 2006 by a margin of 69% of Oakland voters, it has been a long haul for Oakland voters to be able to start using Instant Runoff Voting (also known as Ranked Choice Voting). In early December 2009, Secretary of State Deborah Bowen signed off on the IRV system, and by late December City Attorney John Russo had issued a memo strongly encouraging the City Council to move IRV forward as mandated in the City’s Charter.
Finally, on January 5th 2010, Oakland’s City Council approved an MOU with Alameda County to definitively move forward with Ranked Choice Voting elections on November 2010 and beyond. With more than 70 people signed up to speak on the agenda item, the City Council heard overwhelmingly from IRV supporters who showed up en masse.
During public comment, Oakland Rising’s Executive Director Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont addressed the voter education concerns, testifying that, “We will make sure that Oakland voters know what to do when they step into the voting both on November, 2010. Oakland Rising is ready, we have been ready and now we are waiting on you. We are waiting for City Council members to show leadership.”
After about two and a half hours of public comment the City Council voted 6-2 to move forward with IRV. The supporting votes came from Councilmembers Brooks, Kaplan, Quan, Kernighan, Reid and Nadel, with the dissenting votes from Councilmembers Brunner and De La Fuente.
If the City Council had either hesitated on implementing IRV or moved forward with a June Primary Election at the Jan 5th meeting, it would have been facing a losing legal battle, as well as a losing battle with a dissatisfied public.
Once voters passed Measure O in 2006, using Ranked Choice Voting has been written into the City Charter, and City Council has had no legal authority to change it. Legally it was a matter of the Sec. of State and Registrar of Voters authorizing Instant Runoff Voting in Alameda County, which occurred in Dec. 2009.
Moreover, many speakers noted that City Council members have a duty to represent the will of the people, including those who voted in large percentage (69%) for Instant Runoff Elections. Also in question by IRV supporters was the duty of City Council members to serve the public good above any political ties and aspirations.
From opponents of the agenda item, there was some concern about the ability of the County and City officials and community organizations to do adequate voter education about IRV. However the County already has a state-approved outreach plan, and community organizations including Oakland Rising both have plans in place and proven success at contacting hard-to-reach voters, particularly in East and West Oakland.
There was also concern voiced, primarily from the Oakland Builders Association members, about the cost of implementing Instant Runoff Voting. However the Alameda County Registrar of Voters has issued a statement indicating that the cost of implementing IRV, including educational outreach, would not exceed the cost of a June election. And beyond the initial implementation, IRV will save the city approximately $800,000 per year by eliminating the June primary election.
Instant Runoff Voting is an opportunity to develop more civic engagement and voter turnout in our City. IRV is an opportunity to truly build an Oakland for everyone. The June primary elections historically have had about half the voter turnout of November general elections.
By eliminating the June primary, we will see greater voter participation and ultimately more representative election results. IRV provides an opportunity for voters to vote for whom they really believe in, not just whom they think will win the election. In so doing, IRV helps to even the playing field for candidates who may not have as much money or who may not have received any political party endorsement.