The attack on democracy is not just something taking all the way in Texas, Mississippi or Egypt, it is something taking place right in our own backyards, here in Oakland and in San Francisco as well.
If you flip through your dictionary to find a definition for democracy, phrases like “government by the people,” “majority rule,” or even “people-power” may turn-up. In fact Abraham Lincoln is famously quoted for defining democracy as “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
And yet, even though the very foundation of our government was laid to increase civic engagement and community participation, represent the will of the majority (without violating the civil and human rights of the minority), aspire for transparency when possible, and remain accountable to the community, democracy and government are constantly under attack, when we should really be looking into the individuals that are not upholding the principles of democracy.
When Oakland voters approved Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) by a majority vote in 2006 by 69%, the community made themselves loud and clear about how they would like to see government function in Oakland around electoral politics. However, because this system does not consistently favor an incumbent as it requires candidates to directly engage all the constituents they represent in order to win nor does it cater to Big Money (ie., developers and corporations), there are some individuals willing to take desperate measures and undermine democracy to ensure that business remains the same as usual in Oakland.
Most recently, there have been dire attempts to repeal Ranked Choice Voting in Oakland, after just one election of using the new voting system in 2010. Back in April 2012 there was a failed attempt to gather enough signatures to place a repeal of RCV on the November 6, 2012 ballot. But even with the claims that Oakland voters want to return to an expensive June primary election and November run-off election, political consultant Larry Tramutola was unable to gather the necessary amount of registered voters signatures to qualify the measure for the general election this fall.
After an unsuccessful effort to use the proper transparent and democratic process of gathering signatures to qualify the ballot measure, in May Council member Ignacio De La Fuente and long time opponent to RCV, then tried to rally the rest of Oakland city council to approve the repeal of RCV as a ballot measure, going against the previous votes of their constituents. However, as word circulated of De La Fuente’s attempt to move the repeal out of the Rules and Legislation Committee to the general city council meetings as an agenda item, once it was clear that he did not have the sufficient votes to pass the repeal effort, the council member paused his efforts.
Most recently, as of late last week, we have witnessed sneaky and undemocratic tactics to repeal RCV and undermine Oakland’s democratic process. Without going through the proper and legal channels of first hearing the agenda item at the Rules and Legislation Committee, De La Fuente had Council President Larry Reid place the repeal measure on the upcoming July 17, 2012 council agenda, without the consent of Mayor Jean Quan or City Administrator Deanna Santana, as is required in Rule 28 of Oakland’s City Charter.
Luckily, due to persistent grassroots organizing and engaged community members calling out the illegal violation of Oakland’s City Charter, De La Fuente’s measure to repeal RCV was pulled from the agenda for Tuesday’s council meeting on July 17. Efforts to peal back Oakland’s Charter and laws overwhelming passed by voters, warrant sufficient time for in-depth dialogue between city leadership and the community.
For now, there is a brief reprieve in the long-term fight to explore all that RCV has to offer Oakland voters and improve democracy in our city. However, it is possible, and highly likely that at the 11th hour, the anti-RCV measure may appear again on the council agenda for Tuesday, July 17 or Tuesday, July 31. That is why we are asking you to remain vigilant and steadfast in the fight for democracy in Oakland.
Everything is coming down to the wire. In order to qualify an anti-RCV ballot measure for Oakland’s November 6 election, council must approve the measure prior to leaving for recess on August 1. This is why underhanded tactics that subvert the rule of law are being used in desperate attempts to limit voter participation, even in the city of Oakland.
Whether you are for Ranked Choice Voting, against it, or still have not made up your mind either way, we hope that you can agree that changes as drastic as this, to the democratic process in our city require proper discussion and analysis before making hasty decisions.
Please stay on alert, at any moment, we may need you to join us at an upcoming a City Council meeting to defend democracy in our town. Also make sure you have taken action to protect RCV for our Town. Please look back to Ella’s Voice for frequent updates about RCV and how you can make your voice heard in defense of democracy. If you want to get more involved in our efforts, contact me.