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Election rule changes could save money, city clerk says

Karen Holzmeister // Published February 7, 2009 in The Daily Review

A San Leandro City Council committee recommended the use of IRV for city elections.

SAN LEANDRO — Could so-called ranked-choice voting eliminate municipal runoff elections in San Leandro?

On Thursday, a City Council committee generally supported what is also known as the instant runoff system, and changing the even-year municipal election date from the June primary to the November general election.

In San Leandro, a runoff election must be held if no municipal candidate receives at least 50 percent of the vote plus one. But under the proposed new system, voters would indicate their first, second and third choices on the ballot to preclude having a runoff.

Advantages of the proposal include avoiding the costs associated with holding a runoff election.

Last June, in a three-candidate race for the District 2 council seat, none of the challengers received the necessary 50 percent plus one vote to be elected.

Linda Perry received the most votes, but not the required majority. Perry and Ursula Reed, who came in second, then went on to a November runoff. Reed received more votes in November and was elected to the four-year seat.

Last June's election cost the city $50,000, while the November election cost $68,000, City Clerk Marian Handa said. Three measures on the November ballot increased the cost of that election, Handa added.

Candidates would save money, too, if the primary was eliminated, Mayor Tony Santos said.

"I would have saved $50,000 if there hadn't been a runoff in 2006," said Santos, a member of the council's Rules and Communications Committee, which reviewed Handa's proposal.

However, Santos doubted there will be enough support on the full council to make the election change.

The next municipal election is scheduled for June 2010, in which Santos's mayoral seat and three of the six council seats will be on the ballot.

The council will have to make a decision by the end of this year to change the municipal election from June to November. If no change is made, the candidate nominating period opens in February 2010 and ends in March 2010.

Handa said there have been three runoff elections since 2000.

If approved by the full council, San Leandro will work with Alameda County, and the cities of Berkeley and Oakland, to use the ranked-choice voting system developed by Sequoia Voting Systems for the November 2010 election.

The election would require special certification by the California secretary of state, because the Sequoia system has not been approved by the federal government. The cost of developing the system is $350,000, Handa said. San Leandro's share would be $45,000, based on the city's number of registered voters.