In the past 10 years, four California cities have embraced ranked-choice voting, the system of computerized runoff elections that boosters say streamlines and reforms local politics. Almost as soon as the new systems were in place, critics began trying to roll ranked-choice voting back. Opponents are ready to go back at it this week. Tomorrow officials in San Francisco are scheduled to consider measures that would modify the new high-tech voting system. The Oakland City Council was asked to consider a measure tomorrow that would have abolished rank-choice voting entirely in that city. But Mayor Jean Quan blocked it from coming before the council, said Terry Reilly, a former San Jose election official and a ranked-choice voting opponent. In a ranked-choice election, voters get three weighted choices for each office on the ballot. If no candidate wins 50 percent of the first-choice votes, a computerized “instant runoff” is held to select the winner.
This November will be Oakland’s second election using ranked-choice voting, but if Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente gets his way, it could be the last. De La Fuente wants council members next week to place an initiative on the November ballot asking voters to rescind the voting system and return to holding runoff elections when no candidate wins an absolute majority. But De La Fuente doesn’t appear to have the votes to get the measure on the ballot, and he likely won’t even be able to keep the proposal on the council’s agenda. Ranked-choice elections ask voters to rank their top three candidates. When no candidate wins more than half of the first-place votes, the second- and third-place votes are tabulated, avoiding the need for runoff elections.
It looks as if the effort to repeal ranked-choice voting in Oakland has unraveled already. A group with close ties to ex-state Senator Don Perata’s campaign manager admitted to the Oakland Tribune that it won’t be able to gather the 20,000 signatures needed to qualify its proposal for the November ballot. And an alternative plan by Oakland Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, a longtime close friend and ally of Perata’s, to ask the city council to place the measure directly on the ballot does not have the necessary votes. De La Fuente, who plans to run for mayor this fall if there’s a recall election, has been a longtime opponent of ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting. He worked with Perata in 2010 in an attempt to block Oakland from using it, even though 69 percent of city voters had approved the voting system. Perata later blamed ranked-choice voting for his loss in the 2010 mayor’s race to Jean Quan. Perata received more first-place votes than Quan did, but she garnered far more seconds and thirds, enabling her to win.
Oakland voters may get a chance to weigh in on the city’s use of ranked-choice voting and the number of terms council members can serve. Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente wants to see a November ballot measure that asks voters to repeal ranked-choice voting in city elections, while Councilwoman Jane Brunner wants voters to consider limiting the terms of City Council members and the city attorney to three four-year terms. Currently there are no term limits. The proposals would require a majority council vote to get on the fall ballot. The council is expected to vote on them in mid-May.
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan isn’t waiting to see if the recall drive against her qualifies for the ballot – she already has a well-oiled campaign up and running to keep her job. And with good reason. Joe Tuman, a San Francisco State political science professor and KPIX political analyst who placed fourth in the 2010 mayoral election, tells us that if the recall qualifies, “I would definitely run.” Tuman’s entry would offer Quan’s opponents an alternative to the only other announced candidate so far, City Councilman and former mayoral candidate Ignacio De La Fuente, whom some see as unelectable. So it may be no surprise that an estimated 21,000 Oakland voters recently got a glossy, eight-page mailer, Oakland on the Rise – State of the City, Mayor Jean Quan.