California and National Elections

Oakland Adopts Instant Runoff Voting

OAKLAND- Disparate parties and voters dissatisfied with mainstream candidates will have more options in all local elections when a new electoral process is enacted in 2008 - the result of Tuesday night’s passage of Measure O.

About 69 percent of Oakland voters cast their ballots in favor of adopting Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), an electoral process in which voters rank candidates numerically from their first-choice candidate to their last.

Votes are counted according to how many ballots each candidate is ranked first preference. The candidate who receives the fewest number of first preferences is eliminated and said candidate’s votes are transferred to the next highest ranked candidate who remains in the race. Another ballot is made excluding the candidate eliminated in the previous round of votes and the process continues until one candidate receives the majority vote, or the most first-rankings.

The measure was introduced by Oakland City Council members Nancy Nadel and Patricia Kernighan. Smaller political groups such as the Oakland Green Party, East Bay Libertarians and the Alameda County Democrats reason that IRV will be a fair voting process for groups such as theirs. Measure O also garnered support from both Oakland District 2 candidates, Pat Kernighan and Aimee Allison, the League of Women Voters, the NAACP, and the Oakland Tribune.

These proponents believe IRV will save the city money, increase voter turnout and help level the playing field for third-party candidates.

“The real beneficiaries are third-party candidates,” said Lynne Serpe, campaign manager for Yes on Measure O. “People are turned off from voting for who is most likely to win. Measure O will let people vote for who they want.”

However, opponents say exactly the reverse will happen. Willie Yee, Chief of Staff to councilmember Henry Chang Jr, who opposes the measure, says IRV could disenfranchise voters, whose English skills are limited.

Oakland is the third city in California, after San Francisco and Berkeley, to adopt IRV. Instant runoff has never passed the statewide ballot. By focusing on individual cities, proponents hope to familiarize voters with the system, get it back on the state ballot and, ultimately, onto a national one.