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Mayor Dellums to break tie on voter education funding

on March 18, 2010

On Tuesday night, an Oakland City Council vote about whether or not to redirect $255,000 earmarked for public campaign financing to educate Oakland residents about the city’s new voting system resulted in a tie.

In November, Oakland will switch to a ranked choice voting system, in which voters will rank their top three candidates according to their preference. Oakland residents will choose the mayor, city attorney, city auditor and members of the City Council using this new system. Voters agreed to switch to ranked choice voting in 2006 with the passage of Measure O.

Berkeley and San Leandro will also begin to use this system in November, and San Francisco is already using ranked choice voting.

But now city officials have begun to discuss how to educate Oakland voters about the new system. Councilmembers Ignacio De La Fuente and Rebecca Kaplan introduced a plan to use $255,000 previously earmarked for public campaign financing to teach Oakland residents how to use the new voting system.  (Public financing provides campaign funding for candidates who have broad support from the public and who pledge not to accept private donations.  It also provides matching funds for publicly financed candidates who are out-fundraised by privately financed candidates.)

Councilmember De La Fuente and Kaplan argued for allocating more money for voter education, saying that the city is required to do its own outreach under Measure O. Their plan includes door-to-door canvassing and phone calls to residents, especially to individuals who do not speak English. “We have a moral mandate.  Although volunteers are great, they are not going to reach breadth of the language competency,” said Kaplan, councilmember at large.

However, some voters oppose the use of public campaign financing money, especially during a time when the city’s budget is being cut across the board. “Outreach in Oakland is needed. But that does not mean we have to grab all the money,” Judy Parks, an Oakland resident, said during the public comment period.

Councilmembers were split on this issue during the evening’s discussion.  “In the last election, public financing did not make any difference,” said District 5 Councilmember De La Fuente, who represents the Glenview and Fruitvale areas.  He argued that the city has an obligation to explain the new voting system to the voters, especially residents whose first language is not English. “We have to do whatever we can so that people can understand,” he said.

District 4 councilmember Jean Quan, who represents the Montclair and Laurel neighborhoods and is running for mayor in the November election, said that public financing is working for candidates who have limited resources. “Even though I had raised money for my campaign, I took the money and it helped,” said Quan, referring her last run for City Council.

After an hour of discussion, Quan and City Council President Jane Brunner made a motion for the city to spend $100,000 educating voters about the new system and to save $100,000 for public campaign financing. The motion resulted in a tie with councilmembers De La Fuente, Kaplan, Larry Reid and Desley Brooks voting against it.  The final vote was left to Mayor Ron Dellums, who will vote to break the tie at in the next meeting he will attend on April 20th.

The City Council also voted for 15 percent cuts for the office budgets of all Oakland’s elected officials.  These reductions would include the elimination of all six full time legislative analyst jobs and will apply to the mayor’s office, City Council offices, city auditor’s offices, and city attorney’s offices.  The reductions are estimated to save up to $250,000 in the 2009-2010 fiscal year and $1.5 million in the 2010-2011 fiscal year.

1 Comment

  1. […] week, the city council tied over a vote to instead use $100,000 in city funds previously allocated for public campaign financing for voter […]

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