Implementing ranked choice voting this year may cost the City of Oakland $946,950, according to a new report prepared by City Attorney John Russo. Russo issued a legal opinion last month that stated that the city must use the new voting format in the November 2010 election. The $946,950 cost, however, does not include the $800,000 that Oakland is estimated to save if it forgoes a June election. If the City Council refrains from holding a June primary, then Oakland will only have to spend about $147,000 this year for ranked choice voting, and will save money in successive years because it will not have to pay for start-up costs again. Ranked choice voting allows the city to only have one election in November and avoid a costly June primary.
The Oakland City Council is scheduled to take up the issue of ranked choice voting, also known as instant runoff voting, tomorrow night, and is expected to go forward with the new format this year in light of Russo’s strong legal opinion last month. Russo’s opinion noted that a 2006 measure approved by 69 percent of Oakland voters states that the city “shall” use ranked choice voting once the Alameda County Registrar of Voters gives the go ahead. Registrar Dave MacDonald did that last month after Secretary of State Debra Bowen approved the county’s hardware and software voting system and outlined a comprehensive voter-education campaign.
Russo said in his new report that the $946,950 was a maximum cost estimate, and that MacDonald has indicated that it could very well be cheaper than that. However, the city’s costs could increase to a maximum of $1.5 million (not including the savings of not having a June election) if either or both Berkeley and San Leandro decide to forgo ranked choice voting this year. Unlike Oakland, San Leandro has no voter mandate to implement the new system and the council is scheduled to take up the issue later this month. Berkeley, meanwhile, could put off ranked choice voting if it decides that it will be more costly than holding a traditional runoff election.