By STEVEN TAVARES
The CitizenIf San Leandro Councilwoman Diana Souza had used Ranked Choice Voting last night to decide implementing the voting system for San Leandro, she probably would have voted "no" as her first choice, "I suppose" as her second and "yes" as her third.
In the end, the council voted 5-2 to approve the Memorandum of Understanding installing Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) as the method the city will elect its leaders starting this November. Councilman Bill Stephens and Vice Mayor Joyce Starosciak were the only dissenting votes. Oakland approved RCV Jan. 5 and Berkeley's city manager has said the city will also approve it shortly.
If not for the poor economy, the debate on RCV would have likely breezed through the city council with only Souza voicing displeasure with the particulars of the system. Instead, the higher first-time costs of the Sequoia voting system led Stephens and Starosciak to vote against RCV, although both agreed on its imminent acceptance around the country in the future. "It's not the right time for RCV in San Leandro," said Starosciak, who is running against Santos for mayor this fall. She also called RCV "an excess burden" on the city's budget.
Councilman Jim Prola and Mayor Tony Santos, both early proponents of RCV, made impassioned pleas in support of the plan. Santos reasoned elections costs money no matter what saying, "It's the cost of having good government" and "If it becomes a dollars and cents issue, the city is going to save money."
City Clerk Marian Handa said the costs of RCV in 2010 is estimated to be $181,000--over $50,000 more than two possible elections--but the city would recoup the investment by 2014. The cost of one RCV election after the first year is estimated to be $92,000, according to Handa.
RCV will be one of the most dramatic changes in the way San Leandrans elect their leaders. Under the system, voters choose their first, second and possibly third choices. The new system eliminates the need for a June primary since RCV is designed to deliver a winner with a majority of the votes fulfilling the city's charter.
To achieve this a winner is chosen through successive rounds by dispersing the votes of the candidate with the least amount of first place votes. Those votes are then transferred by percentage to the remaining candidates until one candidate has a majority of the votes. Since RCV is only used in mayoral and council races, voters will be furnished with two ballots during elections where additional races are contested or ballot measures are decided.
One of the main benefits of RCV, advocates say, is that it allows for larger voter participation and makes running for office more accessible to more people unable to run because of the prohibitive costs involved. Mayoral candidate Stephen Cassidy supports RCV for this reason even though his candidacy may have benefited by the run-off system, which can give a third-party candidate greater influence on the outcome through the "spoiler effect."
"I think making it clear to candidates that there is only one race they have to raise funds, that's one step of several steps to encourage more folks to run for office," said Cassidy.
The certainty of November elections instead of a June primary may now encourage possible candidates taking a wait-and-see approach to surface. There have been rumors of more candidates entering the mayoral race for months, while two incumbents on the city council are currently running unopposed.
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