Oakland City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente has long opposed ranked-choice voting. And on Tuesday, July 17, he will ask the city council to place a measure on the November ballot that would overturn the voting system. De La Fuente has contended for years that ranked-choice voting, also known as instant-runoff voting, or IRV, is a flawed process for selecting political leaders. But he has more to gain from a ballot measure than just overturning a voting system he opposes. It could also benefit him politically, and allow him to win elections that he might otherwise lose.
An anti-IRV campaign would likely be run by De La Fuente’s campaign manager, Larry Tramutola. As such, Tramutola and De La Fuente would be able to raise unlimited funds for the anti-IRV effort, and then feature De La Fuente in ads touting the ballot measure — thus giving him free publicity for his run against Kaplan. By contrast, if there were no ballot measure, then De La Fuente would have to abide by the city’s strict spending rules for city council races.
An anti-IRV measure, if approved by Oakland voters in November, also would likely boost De La Fuente’s chances for defeating Mayor Jean Quan when she runs for reelection in 2014. De La Fuente said that he would challenge Quan this year if there were a recall election, but now that the recall efforts have failed, the longtime councilman is expected to take on the mayor when her first term is over.
However, ranked-choice voting, if it remains in place for the 2014 election, would present challenges for the moderate De La Fuente. Polls have repeatedly shown that he is viewed negatively by many Oakland voters, particularly by progressives, in part because of his repeated calls over the years for gang injunctions and curfews, and his demand for a tougher police crackdown on Occupy Oakland last fall. De La Fuente also has made enemies within the labor community for his hardline stances against public-employee compensation packages. As a result, he would likely have a tough time in a ranked-choice-voting election because to win he would need lots of voters to list him as their second or third choices on their ballots — as Quan proved in 2010.
De La Fuente did not immediately return phone calls seeking comment for this story. But Kaplan said she opposes his proposal to put an anti-IRV measure on the ballot. Kaplan noted that ranked-choice voting saves the cash-strapped city a lot of money, because it eliminates the need for a June primary. The system also improves voter turnout because lots more voters cast ballots in November elections than in June primaries. “It’s going to cost an extra $1 million,” said Kaplan of doing away with IRV. “And it will reduce voter participation.”
It’s unclear, however, whether De La Fuente has the five council votes he needs to get his anti-IRV measure on the ballot. He has the support of his good friend, council President Larry Reid, who put the anti-IRV proposal directly onto the council’s agenda, bypassing the usual committee process. Councilwomen Jane Brunner and Desley Brooks, neither of whom supports ranked-choice voting, also may back De La Fuente’s plan. However, the four other councilwomen — Kaplan, Pat Kernighan, Nancy Nadel, and Libby Schaaf — all have supported ranked-choice voting in the past.
Finally, if De La Fuente’s gambit sounds familiar to you — it should. Brunner, his longtime political ally, proposed a term-limits measure earlier this year for the November ballot. Similarly, there were concerns that Brunner and Tramutola, who also is her campaign manager, would use the term-limits measure to benefit Brunner’s run for city attorney — much like an anti-IRV effort could do for De La Fuente. However, two City Hall sources say Brunner has not been able to muster the council votes needed to put her proposal on the ballot.