Jean Quan made history this week by becoming the first female and first Asian-American mayor of Oakland, CA. Her victory, decided by less than 2,500 votes (out of 106,000 votes cast), came as a result of Instant Runoff Voting (also known as “ranked choice” voting).
According to the CA Secretary of State, Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) is “is a method of voting in which voters rank candidates for office in any order they choose and a single winner is elected, thus eliminating the need for run-off elections. Voters mark their ballots for multiple candidates in order of preference. The ballots are counted and the candidate with the least votes is eliminated. Then, a new round of counting begins with each ballot cast for the eliminated candidate counted toward the voter’s next choice candidate listed on that ballot. This continues until only two candidates are remaining and the candidate with the highest number of votes is declared the winner.”
IRV was approved by Oakland voters in 2006 and authorized for use by the State in 2009. Oakland Rising, one of our key partner grant organizations, strongly advocated for the use of IRV, primarily as a cost-cutting and power-leveling elections innovation.
“By eliminating the June primary,” they wrote on their website back in February 2010, “we will see greater voter participation and ultimately more representative election results. IRV provides an opportunity for voters to vote for whom they really believe in, not just whom they think will win the election. In so doing, IRV helps to even the playing field for candidates who may not have as much money or who may not have received any political party endorsement.” Oakland Rising utilized a comprehensive and strategic outreach plan to educate hard-to-reach voters in East and West Oakland on IRV, which ultimately was used in 85% of the mayoral votes cast. This is precisely the kind of grassroots education and organizing that is needed to make elections accessible to both voters AND candidates.