Years after voters approved it, ranked-choice voting has come to Alameda County.
Voters in three cities -- Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro -- will use the new voting method in electing local officials, such as mayor and city council members. Voters in all three of those cities approved going to ranked-choice voting -- also known as instant runoff voting -- which eliminates the need for local primaries by allowing voters to rank a first, second and third choice candidate for a single office.
Oakland voters approved going to the new system in 2006, while Berkeley residents voted in favor of it in 2004. San Leandro voters agreed on ranked-choice voting in 2000.
"For the most part, a lot of people don't even remember voting for it," said Dave Macdonald, Alameda County's registrar of voters. "However, once we explain to people what it is, they tend to be very supportive of it."
Macdonald and his staff have conducted an extensive outreach program this summer -- that will stretch into fall -- to educate voters on the new process. Through August, Macdonald estimated they had performed about 70 outreach events -- some in Spanish or Chinese -- at places ranging from churches to Oakland A's games.
"Some people have questions about the ballot, but they seem to generally understand how it works," Macdonald said.
Ranked-choice works by voters voting for their candidate in order of preference. If no candidate has received more than 50 percent when the votes are tallied, the system will start eliminating candidates from the bottom up. When a voter's first choice is eliminated, their second choice is then counted. This process of elimination occurs until a candidate has 50 percent of the overall vote.
Macdonald said the media coverage of Oakland's mayor race -- which will be a ranked-choice voting election -- has helped his office get the word out about what Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro voters will see in November.
"Definitely, people are interested in that race, so it's a good example to use," Macdonald said.
He also stresses that ranked-choice voting will be used only in Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro local races, and will not affect the election of county, state and federal officials or the approval or rejection of ballot measures.
Therefore, if someone lives in Pleasanton or Albany, for example, they will not see ranked-choice voting on their ballots at all.
While the process is intuitive, Macdonald said he understands some voters may have trouble with the nuances at first. He said volunteers at the polls will be ready to help anyone having trouble understanding the process.
Some believe the election in the county will be watched around the state. Although San Francisco has been using ranked-choice voting for years, Alameda County will become only the second county in the state to use it, so some want to see how smoothly everything will go.
"Most definitely others in the state will be watching," said Gautam Dutta, an elections lawyer who also works for the voting advocacy nonprofit group FairVote. "There are officials in other places in the state who would like to see ranked-choice voting where they are."
Macdonald said he has received calls from numerous counties and jurisdictions who are interested in going to ranked-choice voting.
"I know people will be watching to see if everything goes well," Macdonald said.
For more information on ranked-choice voting, go to www.acgov.org/rov/rcv.