Oakland Rising Throws Down for Ranked Choice Voting - and WINS!

In the next 7 months Oakland Rising will be contacting at least 20,000 voters in the flatlands to talk with them about Ranked Choice Voting (also known as Instant Runoff Voting).  In November 2010, voters will be using Ranked Choice Voting for the first time since it was approved by 68% in the November 2006 election.  It's been a battle to get City Council to move it forward, but we're finally on the path!  Below is an article written by our Field Director that outlines the struggle and the victory of Instant Runoff (Ranked Choice) Voting.

 

Instant Runoff Voting will bring positive change to Oakland (Community Voices Opinion)
By:  Jessamyn Sabbag, Field Director, Oakland Rising
Published on Wednesday, January 06, 2010 on OaklandLocal.com
Last updated on 07:39AM, Wednesday, January 13, 2010

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. 

In short, IRV strengthens our democracy and will save the city money. Congratulations to the City Council for doing the right thing, and congratulations to all Oaklanders for the positive change that IRV is sure to bring.

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