While a proposed parcel tax increase has dominated news accounts of Berkeley City Council in recent weeks, it is three proposed election-altering charter amendments that might actually have most significant long-term affects on the city.
Council has scheduled a public hearing on the three charter amendments for tonight’s (Tuesday, Nov. 18) meeting.
Language for the proposed ballot measures must be finalized by Council’s Nov. 25 meeting. If approved by Council, the measures will appear on the March, 2004 ballot.
The runoff charter amendment would lower the percentage a candidate for Berkeley city office needs to get in an election to avoid a runoff. Currently, a candidate must get 45 percent of the vote in order to win on the first ballot. The proposed runoff charter amendment would only require a 40 percent vote to avoid a runoff, making it easier for candidates to win on the first ballot.
Under existing Berkeley law, for example, Councilmember Gordon Wozniak was forced into a runoff with opponent Andy Katz in last November’s District 8 Council race after Wozniak garnered only 44.2 percent in the initial vote. Wozniak beat Katz in the runoff. Under the proposed charter amendment, no runoff would have been needed.
The proposed runoff charter amendment would also extend the time of the runoff from the December following the November election to the following February. City Clerk Sherry Kelly has told Council that the present short time between elections and runoffs makes it necessary for her office to spend money preparing for runoffs that the county registrar of voters has not yet ruled are necessary.
The proposed nomination charter amendment would add a $150 filing fee to run for office in Berkeley. Currently, there is no filing fee. The proposed charter amendment would allow a prospective candidate to offset a dollar of the filing fee for each citizen signature submitted on a nominating petition. A candidate submitting 75 names on a nominating petition would only have to pay a $75 filing fee. A candidate submitting 150 names on a nominating petition would be exempt from paying any filing fees.
If passed by Berkeley voters next March, the two charter amendments would go into effect for the November, 2004 election.
The most controversial proposed charter amendment—the so-called Instant Runoff Voting (IRV)—is also the one provision that will not go into effect for several years under any circumstances.
IRV, which has the backing of several progressive political organizations in California, eliminates runoffs altogether by allowing voters to rate more than one choice in an election. If there are three candidates running for an office, for example, voters would be able to list one candidate as their first choice, another candidate as their second choice, and the remaining candidate as their third choice. If no candidate got enough votes to win on the first ballot, the Registrar of Voters would declare a winner by tallying up the second and third-choice votes as well.
Under the language of the proposed IRV charter amendment, Instant Runoff Voting would not go into effect in Berkeley unless and until it is approved and adopted by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters. That is not estimated to take place, if at all, for five to ten years.
The most vocal proponent of IRV on Berkeley City Council is Councilmember Dona Spring. Councilmember Gordon Wozniak has expressed reservations.