Perata Knew Ranked Choice Voting Posed a Problem for Him

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One year ago, Don Perata attempted to block ranked choice voting from going into effect in this election. And based on last night’s stunning — albeit preliminary — results, it’s no wonder. The results showed that Councilwoman Jean Quan takes full advantage of Perata’s inability to attract second- and third-place votes and sweeps by the ex-senator if Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan is eliminated from the race.

As the Express reported in the fall of 2009, Perata had urged Alameda County officials to not implement ranked choice voting for the November 2010 election. And then his close ally, Councilman Ignacio De La Fuente, wrote a letter to California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, asking her to block the new voting system from going into effect.

At the time, it appeared that Perata was attempting to force Quan out of the race. It was clear that Quan would have had trouble beating Perata if there were two elections — a traditional primary and then a general election. The ex-senator’s legendary fund-raising powers would have allowed him to greatly outspend Quan, not once, but twice. And so Quan may not have run if there was no ranked choice voting in this election.

Same with Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan. She, too, may not have run without ranked choice voting. But the preliminary results reveal that under the new voting system she and Quan formed a formidable tandem against Perata — even though they didn't intend to do so. They're backed by differing factions, but it's clear now that most Kaplan supporters prefer Quan to Perata and there's reason to believe that Quan supporters feel the same way about Kaplan. Together, one of them might actually beat the East Bay’s unquestioned king of big money politics.

At this point, Kaplan also still appears to be in the race. She’s only about 2,000 votes behind Quan, and if she picks up enough votes in the next few days to move past her, then she could become Oakland’s next mayor — assuming that she also gets a huge boost from Perata’s inability to nab second- and third-place votes.

Earlier this year, Perata’s other close ally on the council, Jane Brunner, also attempted to block ranked choice voting. But in the end, city and county officials held firm thanks in part to an unequivocal legal opinion from Oakland City Attorney John Russo. Russo reminded the city council in no uncertain terms that Oakland voters had approved ranked choice voting in 2006, and so the city was legally obligated to use the system once the Alameda County Registrar of Voters had implemented it.

Still, Perata is not out of the race yet. He could pull it out if he can pick up about 2,000 more votes than Quan. But last night’s preliminary results were illuminating. They exposed what a polarizing figure he is. Oakland voters apparently either like him or they don’t. And even though he broke all campaign spending records this year, he probably would have benefited from a traditional primary/general election format, because he could have raised oodles of cash for two elections, instead of just one.

So even though Perata’s spokesman Rhys Williams put out a terse statement last night, expressing disbelief at the “mystery” of ranked choice voting, it seems clear that the new voting system was hardly a mystery for the ex-senator. He knew more than a year ago that the new voting system would pose problems for him. And he was right.

Final note: Registrar spokesman Guy Ashley said today that the county does not plan to post updates on the race until Monday. The registrar's office hopes to finish counting the remaining 15,000 late absentee and provisional ballots from Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro this weekend.

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