Election Section

Oakland Special Election: A Better Way By AIMEE ALLISON

Tuesday April 19, 2005

Elections should ensure majority rule and give citizens confidence that every vote counts. In Oakland, we could be using the best that democracy has to offer. 

City officials have so far passed up this opportunity. I am one of eight candidates running to represent District 2 on the Oakland City Council. The person who gets the most votes will win. But with so many people in the race, the winner could take office with as little as 12 percent of the vote. That’s hardly democratic. 

We’ve seen this problem before. Four years ago, in a special election for Oakland City Council in District 6, the winner emerged from a pool of candidates with 33 percent of the vote. The second-place candidate was close behind at 31 percent. If the city had held a runoff betwee n these top two candidates, it’s anybody’s guess who might have won. Instead, two-thirds of the voters simply went unrepresented. 

In the old days, when an Oakland city council member stepped down in the middle of a term, the council would appoint a repla cement. But Oakland overwhelmingly passed Measure I, which amended the city charter to provide for a special election by the voters. The amendment leaves it to the city council to set the exact terms of the election. The best method by far would be instan t runoff voting (IRV). 

I advocate instant runoff voting (IRV), a voting system that our city charter specifically allows. 

Under IRV, voters rank candidates in order of choice: 1, 2, 3, and so on. The winning candidate must have a majority of votes. If anyone receives more than half of the first-choice votes, that candidate is elected. If not, the last-place candidate is defeated, just as in a runoff election, and all those who picked the losing candidate have their votes reassigned to their next choice. The ballots are counted again. The process of eliminating the last-place candidate and recounting the ballots continues until one candidate receives a majority of the vote. 

IRV does more than assure majority rule. It also allows citizens to vote their c onscience. In a race where candidates 1 and 2 seem to be leading and candidate 3 looks a little shakier, a voter can comfortably pick candidate 3 as the favorite without worrying that she is spoiling the chances for her second choice. 

In addition, IRV di scourages negative campaigning and makes candidates focus instead on the issues. Why? Because the competing candidates must keep in mind voters who might be choosing someone else first. Candidates who insult their opponents are hurting their own chances o f winning. 

IRV is a time-tested system of voting used in a number of other democracies, including England, Australia, and New Zealand. 

In addition, IRV has gained a foothold in the United States. Last November, voters in San Francisco were overwhelmingl y satisfied with the election when they used IRV to elected their district supervisors. 

Oakland’s city charter allows the city council to institute IRV for special elections. What is the council waiting for? As a council member, I will do my utmost to pu t the system in place. It’s an easy and efficient way to ensure majority rule. 


Aimee Allison is a City Council candidate in Oakland’s District 2.›