Instant Runoff Voting Probably Dead for Oakland, San Leandro

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Tuesday January 22, 2008

Instant Runoff Voting (IRV), in which voters are allowed to rank their second and third choices in a multi-candidate election rather than waiting for a possible runoff between the top two vote-getters, will almost certainly not be held in Oakland and San Leandro June municipal elections in 2008 as was anticipated.  

It is still possible, however, that the system will be in place for Berkeley city elections in November. 

The problem is a long delay in IRV software approval by the Federal Elections Commission for Sequoia Voting Systems, the vendor which supplies machines for Alameda County elections. 

Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro have all approved IRV for their municipal elections, contingent on the county coming up with an approved electronic counting system.  

But with federal approval still pending and the state approval process to follow, making a June implementation virtually impossible, the San Leandro City Council Rules and Communications Committee has recommended to the full council that San Leandro scrap any plans for IRV and instead hold a June 3 general election with a possible Nov. 4 runoff for any undecided contests.  

Oakland City Council is scheduled to take up the question on Feb. 5. 

The spokesperson for the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, Guy Ashley, said in a telephone interview this week that approval and implementation of IRV is still possible for Berkeley’s November elections. 

In an IRV presentation given to Oakland City Council last July, Registrar of Voters Guy MacDonald said that his office and city clerks from the three Alameda County cities had been meeting regularly since March of last year to discuss IRV implementation, and said that there was “general agreement in that group that if IRV is not ready by January 2008, launch should be postponed to a date beyond November 2008.” 

Under the county contract signed with the election machine vendor, Sequoia was supposed to have IRV software developed and ready for testing by December of last year.  

Ashley said this week that Sequoia met the contract’s software submission timetable, delivering IRV software in August of last year, but said that “because IRV is still a new concept,” the federal testing and approval process has been slower than anticipated.