Instant Runoff Voting comes to Oakland

Almost four years after Measure O was passed by 69% of voters, Oakland will begin to use instant runoff voting (IRV) for the city’s mayoral and council elections  this November.   We expect the move to strengthen democratic participation in Oakland elections by eliminating the need for June primaries, when voter participation rates, particularly among people of color and youth, have been as low as 15%.

Instant runoff voting is a voting system where voters rank candidates in order of preference, eliminating the need for separate runoff elections when one candidate does not reach a 50% threshold.  As FairVote explains, “instant runoff voting elects candidates who have majority support, accommodates voters having better choices (alleviating concerns about the dreaded ‘spoiler effect’) and encourages winning candidates to reach out to more people.”  (See a video demonstration below.)

After successfully campaigning for IRV’s implementation in Oakland, one of our key partner organizations, Oakland Rising, and its four organizational members, APEN, EBASE, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, and Causa Justa :: Just Cause, will be contacting over 20,000 voters to explain how IRV works in the lead-up to the November elections. As Oakland Rising Executive Director Esperanza Tervalon-Daumont testified before City Council’s 6-2 vote in favor of moving forward with IRV, “We will make sure that Oakland voters know what to do when they step into the voting booth on November, 2010.  Oakland Rising is ready.”

For us, the story of how Oakland adopts instant runoff voting and the impact it will have is one strong example of how election reform and community-based organizing strategies work together to ensure, as the Foundation’s wesbite reads, “that people of color are fully and proportionately engaged in civic processes (organizing and voting) that impact the creation of public policy, and that the integrity of the election systems that we use to select public sector policymakers are robust and trustworthy.”

For our funder colleagues interested in learning more about this area of work, join the Funders’ Committee for Civic Participation this Monday for their April First Monday Call, Election Reform as a Strategy for Building Power in Communities of Color.