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Oakland’s IRV Author Believes System Will Work

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Friday November 24, 2006

The man who was the lead drafter of the Instant Runoff Vote language that eventually became Oakland’s Measure O says that the chance that differences in vote-counting procedures in various forms of IRV could affect the outcome of an election are “incredibly small,” and the example cited in a recent Daily Planet article would not affect an election outcome at all. 

In addition, Chris Jerdonek, Northern California Representative of FairVote organization, says that the city clerks in IRV-approved cities in Alameda County have been meeting for many months now to help plan implementation of IRV in the county, and “all of them want the system to be the same in each city.” 

Jerdonek’s comments were in response to a Nov. 14 Daily Planet article that reported, in part, that “just what form, or forms, [the IRV] system [in Alameda County] will take has not yet been determined. … [D]ifferent forms of IRV have different methods of elimination that can have widely varying effects on the eventual winner.” 

Under the Instant Runoff Voting system, also referred to as ranked choice voting, voters in a political races with more than two candidates running are allowed to rank those candidates by order of preference. Instead of holding a runoff in the event that no candidate receives a majority of the initial vote, IRV allows a winner to be declared by eliminating the lower-choice candidates after the first round of balloting, and adding their second or third choices to the totals of the candidates remaining. 

Voters in San Leandro in 2000 and Berkeley in 2004 approved the use of IRV instead of a runoff in municipal elections in those cities, but did not specify details of what type of IRV system should be used. In November, Oakland voters also approved IRV for use in that city, with the measure including details on how that system should operate. 

Earlier this year, Alameda County Supervisors approved a contract with Oakland-based Sequoia Voting Systems to provide voting machines and software for Alameda elections capable of handling IRV by November of 2007. 

Jerdonek said that because it is likely that Alameda County cities will eventually adopt one IRV system, and that the instances where a different method of handling a vote amounts to less than 1 percent of votes cast, “saying that the details [of different IRV systems] will have ‘widely varying effects’ on the outcome was a harmful exaggeration and unfortunate.” 

The Alameda County Registrars office has been coordinating a countywide effort to prepare for the implementation of IRV since Berkeley passed its IRV-authorizing measure in 2004. Under intense pressure from voting activists to begin implementing IRV, former registrar Elaine Ginnold formed a task force that included voting rights activists, members of the League of Women Voters, county supervisors, and representatives from several Alameda County cities. Eventually, in the summer of 2005, the task force created a document called an IRV Roadmap, which outlined the methods to be used for IRV implementation in the county. 

Jerdonek says the IRV Roadmap was the foundation for the IRV language in Oakland’s Measure O, and that it has the support of the city clerks in the three Alameda County cities—Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro—where IRV has been authorized. 

The IRV task force had a final meeting under acting registrar Dave Macdonald. Jerdonek said he does not expect the task force to continue to meet, since, he says, “the ideas are pretty much finalized,” and it’s time now for Sequoia to put the software in place. Jerdonek says he does not think there will be much bickering among the city clerks as to what form IRV takes in their cities. “I think they’ll just be happy to have it,” he said. 

But the mayors and city councilmembers in Berkeley and San Leandro have not yet weighed in on the issue, and it is they—not the city clerks—who will make the final decision on how the system is implemented. 

Representatives of the Alameda County Registrars Office did not return telephone calls in connection with this story. The public information officer for Sequoia Voting Systems said that the company employees most familiar with Alameda County are currently on Thanksgiving holiday. She promised to provide information on the company’s plans following the holiday break.