The campaign for Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland was a huge success for Oakland. Not only did we adopt a new, more efficient method of electing our local officials, but we did it with a clean, grassroots, educational campaign.

— · — · —

The campaign was a model of what all local campaigns should be—run by a coalition of Oakland activists, on a very small budget, with an essentially all-volunteer crew.

The core of the campaign committee was a group of Oaklanders who have been working for Instant Runoff Voting in Oakland for several years. This group lived and breathed IRV, recruiting others to the cause at every opportunity. The only outside help came from San Franciscans who had recent experience with an instant runoff election and Steven Hill and Lynne Serpe of the New America Foundation.

This was not a big-budget campaign. There were no highly paid consultants. There were a lot of volunteers and a very low-paid graphic artist. The money raised was spent on direct mailing, yard signs, flyers, and a few radio ads.

If you look up “grassroots campaign” on Wikipedia, you get references to:

  • going door-to-door, also known as canvassing
  • phone banking
  • house parties
  • putting up posters
  • talking with pedestrians on the street
  • raising money from many small donors for political advertising or campaigns
  • asking individuals to submit opinions to media outlets and government officials
  • get out the vote activities which include the practice of reminding people to vote.

The Measure O campaign did all of these things and did them effectively. Volunteers were at BART stations during rush hours; they were in the media; they had meetings all over Oakland. This is what campaigns are about—meeting people, telling them about the issue.
In the case of this campaign there was a significant voter-education factor. This was where the Measure O campaign really shone.

Instant Runoff Voting started off with a major negative factor in many people’s minds: the confusion factor. They just didn’t understand how it would work. Or worse, they misunderstood how it would work. The Measure O campaign showed that it is possible to reach a significant portion of the Oakland electorate with good information and, with a lot of good groundwork, get the word out.

The campaign worked hard from the beginning to get endorsements from the people and groups that matter to people in Oakland and then used these connections to further their goal of educating voters. These endorsements opened doors to other community groups—providing opportunities to present information about instant runoff voting—to do the education on which the campaign was based.

There was a last-minute attempt to sabotage the campaign with a questionable mailer implying that the Democratic Party endorsed a “no” vote on Measure O. I like to think that all the education that had occurred up to this point had inoculated the voters against any such tactics. In reality, it probably did have some effect on the total vote and caused the campaign to do a last push to raise money for some radio ads and to use “robo-calls” over the final days.

Now with IRV in place, we can hope that the IRV campaign will be used as the model for future campaigns for both candidates and ballot measures—stay clean, use grassroots campaigning, and educate the voters. It works.

What’s next?

The next step in the campaign is to get ready for the 2008 election. What does that mean? There are 2 major things that need to happen: the computers that count our votes need to be programmed for an Instant Runoff Election and the voters in Oakland need to be ready to vote in an Instant Runoff Election—which means a big voter-education campaign.

In order to be ready for the November 2008 election, we need to begin working very soon. The groundwork has already been laid by a committee that has been meeting with the Alameda County Registrar of Voters since June 2005 to set up Instant Runoff Voting for Alameda County. It includes representatives from Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro. We also need to work with the County Board of Supervisors and the various cities to determine how the cost for the extra work will be allocated. Sequoia Voting Systems, the company that makes the voting equipment used in Alameda County, has committed to be ready to run an IRV election in Alameda County by 2007.

The voter education campaign has a head start in that San Francisco recently ran such a campaign, and we can both use their material and learn from their experience. That said, voter education material needs to be developed and customized for Oakland. Money needs to be found in the City budget for this work. We will do a lot with volunteers again, but it will cost money to do this right.

If you are interested in getting involved, either in the advocacy work, or in the actual voter education, the League is the place to be! We will be working on both fronts, and would be happy to have you join us. Visit or call (510) 834-7640.

Further IRV Successes

An article on Instant Runoff Voting wouldn’t be complete without noting that the recent election in San Francisco used IRV for the Board of Supervisors elections. In two of the races, it took several days for the counting to finish because of the number of candidates—but the process worked, and a runoff election was avoided. A real success story for IRV!

How Does IRV Work?

To see how IRV works, go to: