OAKLAND — The City Council seems poised this evening to vote in favor of instant-runoff voting, precluding the need for primaries in municipal elections, after City Attorney John Russo weighed in last month and said officials had no legal choice but to move to the voter-mandated system.
That doesn't necessarily mean the debate won't get interesting.
At least one council member, Ignacio De La Fuente (Glenview-Fruitvale), aims to scuttle the plan when the board takes the matter up at a 6 p.m. City Hall meeting at 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.
"I'm going to try to kill it," De La Fuente said, adding, "I have no problem with the idea. It's just that how are we going to pay for it? The timing is terrible."
Oakland is facing a $10.4 million general fund deficit this year and a projected deficit of $25 million for the year period beginning July 1. De La Fuente said it's no time to move to the instant-runoff system, which could cost Oakland $947,000 for technology upgrades and voter education, according to report by Russo.
The city would not have to spend roughly $800,000 by moving to the system, however, because a June election may not be necessary. De La Fuente said he believes Oakland could be in for a June election either way, with talk of putting a public safety measure before voters to bolster the city's budget.
Some of De La Fuente's colleagues say his arguments are nonsense. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large), who said she's supported instant-runoff voting for 12 years, said in the long-term the switch would save both the city and political candidates money by eliminating the need for two separate elections in campaign years. She also said more people vote in November elections.
"If you can save money and strengthen democracy, it seems to me like a win-win," Kaplan said.
In instant-runoff voting, also called ranked-choice voting, voters rank their candidates in order of preference, eliminating the need for runoff elections when one candidate does not, on the first ballot, reach the 50-percent threshold.
The switch would have implications in Oakland's 2010 mayoral contest, where is widely believed candidate Don Perata would have an edge if a June primary election was held because of his name recognition and fundraising prowess. Perata has lobbied against making the change.
A June election could be a detriment, however, to Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), who is also running for mayor and has pushed for instant-runoff voting.
Both De La Fuente, a Perata ally, and Kaplan said their positions are not motivated by election-season politics.
As for a potential June election, Kaplan said it would be up to the council whether or not to hold such a vote. If council members don't like the idea of spending money on a special election, they don't have to put a measure on the ballot, she said.
Kaplan and Councilmembers Nancy Nadel (Downtown-West Oakland) and Patricia Kernighan (Grand Lake-Chinatown) offer another reason for making the move: It is, they say, the law. Voters approved Measure O in 2006 with 69 percent support in 2006.
After the county's voting equipment was certified by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, Russo issued an opinion Dec. 16 saying instant-runoff voting is demanded by the city's charter under Measure O — and is not a matter of choice.
"No enactment by the City Council, whether by resolution, motion or ordinance can override the charter's dictates," Russo wrote. "Nor does any elected official, city officer or employee have the authority to ignore the City Charter's requirements. A charter city may not act in conflict with its charter and any act that violates the Charter is invalid."
Reach Kelly Rayburn at 510-208-6435.