County: Instant Run-Off Voting on Schedule

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday January 30, 2007

The office of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters believes that implementation of Instant Runoff Voting in the county is on schedule for implementation in the fall elections of 2008 and expects software from vendor Sequoia Voting Systems to be delivered sometime this spring. 

“Sequoia hasn’t finished writing the program yet, but we understand that it is on a fast track,” the registrar’s Public Information Officer Guy Ashley, said in a telephone interview this week. 

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) eliminates runoff elections in elections with more than two candidates running by allowing voters to rank the candidates by order of preference. In the past, in elections that required a candidate to get more than 50 percent of the vote to win, runoffs between the top two candidates were necessary in Alameda County in instances where no candidate’s vote total cracked the 50 percent barrier. By allowing voters to choose and rate candidates by order of preference in the original election, IRV promises to mathematically select the candidate who is favored by a majority of voters without the necessity of a runoff. 

Under the system to be implemented in Alameda County, voters will be limited to ranking the top three candidates in any given election. 

Voters in the Alameda County cities of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro have all passed referendums in favor of implementing IRV in their elections. 

The contract with Oakland-based Sequoia stipulates that test run of the IRV-capable election software must be available in November of 2007, a full year ahead of the first county election in which it is scheduled to be implemented. 

Ashley said the year’s start-up period is necessary because, while the Sequoia voting machines now in use in Alameda County have been certified by federal and state officials, the newly written IRV software must go through the certification process before it can be used in an election. 

“The whole IRV project depends on state and federal certification, and nobody knows how long that will take place,” Ashley said. “That’s why we built in enough lead time before the first elections.” 

Ashley said the county cleared another potential hurdle with city election officials late last year when cities within Alameda County “agreed to have uniformity in IRV and implement only one system countywide.” Sequoia officials had said they had the capability of writing software for more than one IRV system to be used in Alameda County, but there were concerns among local election officials that having more than one IRV system might cause problems by unduly complicating county elections. 

Sequoia first operated voting machines for Alameda County last year after the county ended its contract with controversial Diebold Election Systems.