Perata May Have Blown It on Ranked Choice Voting

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The decision by ex-state Senator Don Perata to ignore the advantages of ranked choice voting may end up costing him the Oakland mayor’s race. Throughout the campaign, Perata repeatedly urged supporters to just vote for him, implied strongly that they should not select anyone else for their second and third choices, and failed to implore his rivals’ supporters to pick him as their second or third choice.

By contrast, current leader Councilwoman Jean Quan worked overtime to convince voters to pick her second or third on their ballots, while repeatedly urging her supporters to pick Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan second. The moves likely endeared her to Kaplan supporters. And it paid off. According to the most recent results, Quan received three times as many second and third-place votes from voters who selected Kaplan than Perata did. “It’s an extremely smart thing to do with ranked choice voting,” Steven Hill, a ranked choice voting advocate, said of Quan’s strategy.

But Perata’s strategy, which essentially was to show disdain for the new voting system, may have backfired. By telling voters to just pick him, he may have alienated supporters of Kaplan and Joe Tuman, who is currently in fourth place. He also sent an unspoken message that if he was not a voter’s first choice, then they should just leave him off their ballots.

It was a head-scratching maneuver, considering that none of the pre-election polls showed Perata receiving a majority of first-place votes. That meant he knew he had to get lots of second- and third-place votes to win. Yet he didn’t go after them. And it may cost him dearly. Perata has received 34% of the first-place votes, compared to Quan’s 25%, but she trounces him on second and third-place votes, propelling her over the 50% mark, according to the most recent results.

Kaplan also appeared to understand how ranked choice elections work. Like Quan, she abstained from criticizing her opponents — except Perata — because she realized that it could turn off her rivals’ supporters and prompt them to leave her off their ballots. Criticizing Perata, by contrast, carried very little risk for Quan and Kaplan, because the polls showed that he would be among the two final candidates in the ranked choice tabulations, and thus the second and third choices on ballots that had him first wouldn’t come into play.

Kaplan also urged Quan and Tuman supporters to pick her second or third. And in the final weeks of the campaign, she pointed her supporters to endorsements in the Express and the Oakland Tribune that urged voters to consider Tuman and Quan. The results show her strategy apparently worked well with Tuman supporters, because many of them selected her second. And if Kaplan passes Quan in the ballot count, she’s expected to get a huge boost from Quan supporters — just as her supporters went for Quan.

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