The election is two weeks from today, but don’t expect definitive results in the Oakland mayor’s race on the night of November 2. In fact, it could be several days to a week after Election Day before the outcome is known. The reason is that the Alameda County Registrar of Voters won’t start tabulating ranked choice voting results until last-minute absentee and provisional ballots are counted. “It’s a drawn out process,” explained registrar spokesman Guy Ashley.
On election night, the registrar’s office will only post the results of voters’ first-place selections in all ranked-choice races in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro — and only for absentee ballots cast before Election Day and regular ballots cast that day at the polls. The registrar will not begin tabulating second- and third-place choices until it counts the thousands of absentee and provisional ballots expected to be cast on Election Day. Those ballots can sometimes take up to a week to process, because each signature on each ballot must be verified and the registrar must make sure that voters didn’t vote twice.
“We expect absentees to account for more than 50 percent of the vote, and a good chunk of that is going to be people dropping off their absentee ballots on Election Day,” Ashley noted. “We’ve beefed up staff to deal with it, but it’s not just a matter of ripping open envelopes and counting the ballots.”
In the 2006 mayor’s election, it took the registrar more than a week to declare Ron Dellums the winner because the ex-Congressman’s totals kept nudging above and below the 50 percent mark every time a new round of last-minute absentees and provisionals were counted. This year is further complicated by the fact that the Oakland mayor’s race is so crowded and appears to be so close. Polls from last month showed ex-Senator Don Perata with only a slight lead over Councilwoman Jean Quan, with Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan running third, and college professor/news analyst Joe Tuman in fourth.
The apparent closeness of the race means that none of the candidates is likely to receive 50 percent of the vote with just first-place choices. And that means the winning candidate is going need plenty of second and third-place selections to come out on top.
But for that to happen, the registrar’s computer program must first eliminate candidates with the fewest number of first-place votes. And it’s problematic to eliminate candidates until all ballots are in and counted.
Registrar Dave MacDonald is saying that he hopes to begin using the ranked-choice computer algorithm by the Friday after election — but that could turn out to be overly optimistic, particularly in the Oakland mayor’s race.