San Leandro considers instant-runoff voting for municipal elections

Karen Holzmeister // Published July 16, 2009 in The Oakland Tribune

SAN LEANDRO — Ranked-choice voting — also known as the instant runoff system — is risky and confusing, maintains City Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak.

Councilman Michael Gregory disagrees. Switching to this option, which would eliminate the need for both primary and general elections in one year, "would save the city money," he contends.

Now, the entire council — informally split, at the moment — must decide by the end of the year if it wants to change municipal election procedures.

Currently, a runoff election must be held in San Leandro if no candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote plus one.

Using the new system, voters would indicate their first, second and third choices on the ballot, precluding a runoff.

The city could join Alameda County, Oakland and Berkeley in using ranked-choice voting in June 2010, City Clerk Marian Handa and county Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald told council members during a Monday work session. Mayoral and council seats will be on the ballot.

The change would cost the city more up front, but less in future elections.

The city charter also would have to be revised, because voters in 2000 added a majority election requirement.

Mayor Tony Santos said the council also will have to see what the community has to say about the change.

Will the council continue to "accept the will of the people," referring to the 2000 vote, even though "it causes misery for us as candidates?" he asked. 

He referred to the primary mayoral election in 2006 and subsequent runoff — in which he ran and won — which, when necessary, costs candidates more money and time.

During the work session, Santos, Gregory and Councilman Jim Prola backed ranked-choice voting, while Starosciak and council members Diana Souza and Ursula Reed opposed it. Councilman Bill Stephens didn't give an opinion.

Handa said the city, which consolidates its elections with the county, could expect to pay $125,000 in 2010 for the municipal election in June and November runoff. The cost would be $182,000, if it joins with the county, Oakland and Berkeley in ranked-choice voting. That includes San Leandro's $42,000 share of implementing the $350,000 county cost to install the voting system.

In future years, however, the cost for each election would be about $110,000, Handa estimated.