Fate of Ranked Choice Voting is Unsure

The Citizen

Oakland is officially on board. Berkeley is assuring others they will be, too. Tonight, it is San Leandro’s turn to approve a new method for residents to vote for elective office, except in this case, it is far from a sure thing.

The San Leandro City Council will decide tonight whether to approve Ranked Choice Voting (RCV). The move will decide whether this year’s mayoral and council races will occur with a June primary or a single election in November.

While most of the debate over the voting system where residents are asked to rank their first and second choices to elect a mayor and councilmember has barely focused on its merits, but , instead on its costs to the city’s starving coffers.

The city estimates implementing RCV will cost the city $181,000, which is over $50,000 more than the current run-off system. The additional cost runs, according to the city, account primarily for voter education and additional poll workers. In the long run, RCV will costs the city less to hold elections since it entails a single election rather than the possibility of two with run-off elections. The issue for opponents, though, has been the higher initial costs this year amid a struggling city economy.

Last month, the city council deferred a decision on RCV until tonight’s meeting. Several councilmembers took a cautious approach by holding off a decision on RCV until after the Oakland City Council approved it earlier this month, which they did, Jan. 5. The City of Berkeley has not officially approved RCV, but San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos confirmed the Berkeley city manager sent a letter expecting its approval.

Much of the impetus on postponing a decision focused on securing ways to lower or defer the initial costs to the city. Santos, though, said little has changed since last month, which leaves the possibility of the council passing RCV this year as a toss-up based on previous statements from the council.

Santos along with Councilmembers Jim Prola and Michael Gregory have indicated strong support for RCV. Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak and Councilwoman Diana Souza have been vocal opponents on the grounds of cost in addition to Bill Stephens who said last month, “It’s an idea whose time is coming but I’m not sure 2010 is quite the time yet.”

Councilwoman Ursula Reed may have become the crucial swing vote. In previous council meetings, she appeared to question the benefits of RCV. Reed, though, became an uncertainty after she switched sides and voted against Starosciak’s substitute motion last month to block the voting system.

Santos will participate in tonight’s council meeting by teleconference. The mayor is in the nation’s capitol meeting with members of the administration.


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