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Oh oh oh, I got election…*

With the presidential primary in just a few days, many Oaklanders are turning their attention to local races. Before the official start of campaigning, the races are remarkably fluid: not only are potential candidates stealthily recruiting supporters as far away from reporters as possible, there is still substantial uncertainty over whether there will be an election at all.

Normally, the June primary features races for City Council, School Board, and state offices including Assembly, and this year, State Senate. Proposition 93 will decide whether there is a competitive State Senate primary: Senator Don Perata may fail to extend limits on his term in office, opening up what will probably be nasty battle between Berkeley Assemblymember Loni Hancock and former Oakland Assemblymember (and Alameda Country Supervisor) Wilma Chan. Ms. Chan, once considered the frontrunner, has suffered from two years out of office and out of the media spotlight, while Ms. Hancock has made very successful efforts to get herself in front of every camera rolling in Oakland, miles from her Assembly District (whose only Oakland constituency is Rockridge and part of Temescal).

Of more interest to this blog’s readers is the upcoming City Council and School Board races. Several aspiring Council candidates were discussed in Tuesday’s Berkeley Daily Planet, with Nancy Nadel’s bid for a fourth term representing Downtown and West Oakland facing stiff challenge from at least two contenders, and Henry Chang’s likely decision not to run for reelection attracting a great deal of attention. Jane Brunner’s bid for a fourth term representing North Oakland is not likely to be without competition, as her annoyed constituents beg for a candidate. Districts One and Three will probably have open School Board seats, though that second-tier race is currently flying below the media’s radar screen. But when, exactly, will Oaklanders have the chance to decide their representatives?

NovoMetro reported recently that Instant Runoff Voting, the controversial system that has been used in San Francisco since 2004 (during which time not a single incumbent has been defeated), is not ready for implementation in Oakland due to CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen decertifying Alameda County’s new voting machines, equipped with software for IRV. Without the new machines, the elections will go forward in June, rather than November. However, a group of Councilmembers, egged on by Oakland’s shockingly pushy and partisan League of Women Voters, is expected to attempt to force the city to use IRV anyway. Without the new machines, Instant Runoff Voting would be tabulated with paper ballots, creating significant costs to the city and delaying results for several weeks. Though the Country Registrar of Voters and the City Clerk do not see this as an option (the City Clerk told the Rules Committee late last year that “there is nothing instant” about spending weeks tabulating paper ballots with IRV’s complex ranked-choice formula), Council insiders expect several Councilmembers to argue that this is the “voters’ will.” In fact, voters were sold IRV as a faster, cheaper electoral method, so spending weeks and tens of thousands of dollars on hand-counted paper ballots is not following their intent. Most displeasingly, this raises the specter of vulnerable incumbents (like Nancy Nadel) attempting to put off their reckoning with the voters.

We’ll find out next Tuesday, when the Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution delaying IRV until the voting machines can be certified. And though I try to stay out of national politics on this blog, I can’t resist a quick pitch for my presidential candidate:

Everyone sick and tired of Dellums, rather than spend energy on a recall effort, should bide their time and vote for Hillary. A Hillary Clinton administration would more likely than not include a Secretary Dellums.

* Yes, I’m referencing an obscene Turbonegro song.

Posted in breakingnews, citycouncil, dellums, elections, oakland, ousd.

11 Responses

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  1. Rob Richie says

    A good deal of the argument for instant runoff voting is that elections should be decided when most votes participate. Without IRV, candidates will be able to win getting more than 50% of the super low-turnout June primary elections. Those falling short will have FIVE MORE MONTHS of campaigning and spending money. But at least they will have to prove themselves when most of Oakland votes in November.

    Oakland could enact instant runoff voting with a limited hand-tally after counting first choices with its current machines — that’s not so tough. Cary (NC) did just that just five months after finding out it was to use IRV. Oakland will have had two years, but still negate the will of 69% of voters.

    Check out to see how voters are reacting to IRV where it’s used — they overwhelmingly like it in ballot measures, to be sure, but they also overwhelmingly like it when using it.

  2. dto510 says

    Since IRV was sold as faster and cheaper than regular runoffs, it would not be the will of the voters to spend tens of thousands of dollars and many weeks on a hand-count. In terms of turnout, the June elections are important and people are expected to vote in them. The difference between June and November in 2006 was a about 30% – substantial, but it’s not fair to call June super-low-turnout. Oakland is not SF or Berkeley, where runoffs are special elections.

    And in terms of how much people like it – every election I’ve seen with IRV involves about 10% of voters not marking a second choice. IRV is a voting-rights lawsuit waiting to happen. In Minneapolis, there is already a lawsuit. Another lawsuit on a Nadel-authored measure is not what Oakland needs right now, and City Council candidates may willing to sue to force the city to give them their shot in June.

    Nothing in Measure O said the city should do it even if the County isn’t ready. And like I said above, the idea of incumbent Councilmembes putting off their reckoning with the voters is quite unseemly.

  3. Charles Pine says

    Rumor has it that councilmember Jean Quan may run for the at-large council seat, presumably as part of a strategy to realize her stated ambition to be the next mayor of Oakland. If this election were postponed to November 2008 with IRV counted by hand, and she won, that would trigger a special election to fill the district four seat. On one hand, demanding IRV in November for bigger turnout; on the other hand, willing to cause a low-turnout special election. Talk about contradiction.

  4. dto510 says

    I think Ms. Quan running for at-large is a bit speculative, and it really doesn’t make sense for her political career. If she wins, she only gains credibility, and if she loses, she can never run for higher office. But that’s an interesting point about IRV versus special elections – the same people who backed IRV also backed having special elections for Councilmember vacancies.

    Mr. Pine, as a candidate for City Council, do you feel that you might benefit from five additional months to campaign and raise your name recognition?

  5. V Smoothe says

    I hate that song.

  6. MJH says

    a few issues to raise: I have a very hard time reading your blog on a Mac. I don’t know if the font is too small or the light blue on white is just not a sufficient enough contrast. Either way, I struggle with it.
    Also, I speculate that will be getting many a hit on its site due to the Clinton Killion for at-large campaign theme. Do you agree. And is there a copyright infringement issue there?

  7. dto510 says

    This blog is made on a Mac, so I really don’t know what to say! You can increase the font size, and I’m going to try to redesign the page soon, before the City Council races heat up. I think all blogs will get more traffic soon.

    It’s pretty funny that Clinton Killian picked A Better Oakland for his campaign title. I asked Mr. Killian about it and he said he hadn’t seen the blog before, but is now reading all the local blogs. Catchy slogan, though! FutureOakland’s probably a bit too scary to win an election.

  8. OP says

    I think it is a bit premature (and a tad disingenuous) to declare that IRV is an incumbent-bolstering system. Under any system, incumbents have a sizeable advantage — due to money, name recognition, and being connected with the political players. IRV has only been used in San Francisco for a few elections, it will take several more before any trends appear. In any event, IRV couldn’t be any worse than the present system in Oakland — the last time an incumbent on the City Council lost re-election was when Nancy Nadel won in 1996!

    I also think you mis-read the political situation. If IRV is so great for incumbents, why did most of the incumbents up for election vote against using it this year? The vote for a June Primary was De la Fuente, Reid, Brunner, and Kernighan. I personally think that lots of incumbents see IRV as a threat, perhaps primarily because it is an unknown system.

    While I tend to agree that holding a June primary was probably prudent in case certification fails (although, from my understanding it is almost certain the equipment will be ready by November), I think it is disapointing that the City and County put no effort into making IRV happen on time. Shouldn’t you be outraged that voters passed Measure O with 69% of the vote in 2006 — a damn strong mandate — but two years later nothing happens?

Continuing the Discussion

  1. Elections in June after all | A Better Oakland linked to this post on February 5, 2008

    [...] returned from a length blogging break last week to repeat some City Hall gossip about the June primaries. The word on the street (or in Frank Ogawa plaza, at least) was that that [...]

  2. Reflections on Voter Outreach in the East Bay « Living in the O linked to this post on June 25, 2008

    [...] be completely lost in many races if it wasn’t for Oakland bloggers like V Smoothe and dto510, and of course the entire crew at [...]

  3. Random Oakland Thoughts « Living in the O linked to this post on June 27, 2008

    [...] on the presidential primaries, Oaklanders are revving up for council elections. At Future Oakland, dto510 discusses the slew of candidates entering the races and brings up the question of whether we’ll have June elections or be [...]