San Leandro goes with ranked-choice voting system

by Jason Sweeney // Published January 21, 2010 in Oakland Tribune


SAN LEANDRO — After a much-anticipated vote, ranked-choice voting is a go.

At the end of a meeting that pushed toward midnight, the City Council voted 5-2 Tuesday to switch to the new voting system.

The switch means this year's municipal elections for mayor and three City Council seats will be held in November rather than June. The council will hold a special session Feb. 1 to officially change the election date.

Ranked-choice voting — also called instant runoff voting — allows voters to rank three candidates by preference, rather than vote for one and then vote again in a runoff election if a single candidate does not receive 50 percent of the vote as required by the city's charter.

During public comment, 14 speakers spoke in favor of ranked-choice voting, citing increased voter participation, lower election costs for cities and candidates, and an increased candidate pool as benefits of the new system. No one spoke against the proposal.

Councilman Bill Stephens and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak voted against the switch, explaining that implementation costs would be an additional strain on the city's collapsing budget.

"It's just not the right year," Starosciak said.

San Leandro joins Oakland as the second city in Alameda County to switch to ranked-choice voting.

Voters in Berkeley approved ranked-choice in 2006, but the vote-counting equipment was not approved by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen until December. The Berkeley city manager has indicated that his city will use ranked-choice for its city elections this year.

The three cities will share election costs, with San Leandro picking up 12 percent of the total based on its population.

Ranked-choice voting is said to be cheaper than traditional elections; however, startup costs are higher in the first year because of machine costs, voter education and other expenses.

San Leandro City Clerk Marian Handa estimated that the total cost of a ranked-choice election this year would be $187,000 — over $60,000 more than a traditional election. However, election costs would drop to about $92,000 after that, with the city breaking even in 2014 and saving money in succeeding elections, she said.