What If Neither Candidate Gets 50 Percent?

By Steven Tavares

So many variables still exist in deciding whether San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos wins re-election or Stephen Cassidy pulls off the big upset. The registrar says 121,000 voter-by-mail ballots still need to be counted, primarily from voters who delivered their envelopes to the polls Tuesday instead of sending them through the mail. Nobody seems to have a handle on which candidates Councilwoman Joyce Starosciak’s 23 percent votes may leaned towards as their second choice, but here’s an electoral possibility sure to rankle residents.

With Santos and Cassidy nearly deadlocked with 35 percent of the vote, there is a remote chance neither could break the 50 percent threshold. If this occurs, San Leandro could be in uncharted territory and risk having the experiment of Ranked Choice Voting blow up in its collective face.

The problem is the City Charter calls for a winner with a simple majority of the vote. RCV is suppose to deliver this result in a single election, instead of a costly primary and general election race. The mayor and city council were sold on the idea of fiscal responsibility in regard to election costs. Santos said Wednesday he would call for an special runoff election early next year if no candidate receives a simple majority.

Proponents of RCV never said the voting system was perfect, but two peculiarities they said rarely occur may decide this race for mayor. In San Francisco’s seven years using RCV the candidate who won the most first-place votes went on to victory in every single race. Don Perata’s campaign for mayor in Oakland touted this statistic yesterday, but the difference between that race and San Leandro’s is the former State Senate Pro-Tem holds a double-digit lead in the first round over Oakland Councilwoman Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan. Conversely, through Thursday afternoon, Cassidy holds only a slim 66-vote advantage over Santos.

In the meantime, the city waits, but its notoriously fickle residents, may chose to reconsider RCV if this race veers into additional cost and controversy.