OAKLAND -- Let the race begin!
Whether it's the addition of ranked-choice voting or the absence of incumbent Ron Dellums, Oakland's mayoral race this November could be the most interesting in years.
Ten candidates, some with long public track records -- such as former state Sen. Don Perata and Oakland Councilmember Jean Quan -- and some without, have qualified for the ballot.
But unlike past elections, the instant runoff voting system being used for the first time in Oakland means candidates will have to do a lot of strategizing and a lot of wooing in rival camps to gain enough first, second and third place votes to win, experts say.
The ranked-choice system eliminates the need for the June primary election and does away with expensive, delayed runoff campaigns. Voters can choose their first, second and third choice candidates. If no one candidate garners more than 50 percent of the first-place votes cast, the system tabulates the second-place votes and so on until someone gains the majority.
Proponents say it is a more democratic system because even if a voter's first choice is eliminated for too few votes, their second or third choice may decide the election. And November elections typically generate a much larger turnout, said Nicolas Heidorn, a member of the coalition that backed-ranked choice voting in Oakland.
"Turnout in Oakland more than doubled from June to November in 2008 -- an increase of over 100,000 voters," Heidorn said. "The November electorate is also more diverse in terms of ethnicity and economic class, and is generally regarded to attract less partisan voters. Taken altogether, this suggests that candidates with broad bases of support that can speak to many constituencies in Oakland are likely to fare better under ranked-choice voting than the old system."
Steven Hill, an expert in ranked choice voting, said it's also in some cases created a more civil campaign because no one can afford to alienate voters who might be willing to give them a second or third place vote.
Candidates had to find common ground and focus on policy rather than personal attacks.
"It does create more of a dialogue between the leading candidates and the other candidates who aren't really leading but are in the middle of the pack," said Hill, who works for the nonprofit and non partisan organization Fair Vote. "Their second-place votes will be very important in determining the outcome of the election."
Proponents also say it will save Oakland $800,000 a year. San Francisco has used the system since 2004, Hill said. Before that, it spent $2 million to $3 million for each runoff election.
The traditional primary system favored candidates who are able to raise large amounts of money. For example, Quan estimated she would have had to raise about $1 million to compete in a runoff against Perata.
Last fall, Perata voiced his concerns about ranked-choice voting in a letter to Alameda County Administrator Susan Muranishi, calling it an "experimental voting system" and questioning whether there was enough time to educate voters on the use of the new system before the election. But Hill said it's not an issue.
"The system in Alameda County is the exact same system used in San Francisco and San Francisco will have its seventh election. How many do you have to have before it's not experimental anymore?" he said.
Joining Quan and Perata are Oakland Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan; Marcie Hodge, a Peralta Community College District trustee; Joe Tuman, a political-science professor at San Francisco State; Terence Candell, director of Candell's College Preparatory Academy; Don Macleay, Green Party activist; Greg Harland, retired businessman; real estate agent Larry Lionel Young Jr., real estate agent; and Arnie Fields, real estate broker.
Tim Brown, Sharika Gregory and Niki Okuk took out papers but failed to qualify for the ballot.