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Voters Did Understand Ranked Voting

Two analyses show that more than 98 percent of Oakland voters cast valid ballots in the mayor's race.


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Since the election, there's been a lot of chatter among political insiders about ranked-choice voting. Ex-state Senator Don Perata and San Leandro Mayor Tony Santos both lost even though they got the most first-place votes in their respective races. So the voters must have been confused, right? It turns out, not so much.

In the Oakland mayor's race, more than 98 percent of voters cast valid ballots, according to two analyses of preliminary results. In addition, more than 70 percent took full advantage of ranked-choice voting, selecting different candidates for their first, second, and third choices. That's a higher percentage than in San Francisco's first such election in 2004.

The analyses showed that about 13 percent of voters only selected a first and second choice for mayor. And about 15 percent of voters made a single choice for mayor. But those numbers don't indicate voter confusion. "These voters may not have been confused at all — they may have wanted to pick just one candidate," said Steven Hill, an architect of the East Bay's system, who helped conduct one of the analyses. "You'd expect much different results if voters were confused." In fact, Perata had urged his supporters to only vote for him, as did some other candidates.

In 2004, about 59 percent of San Francisco voters took full advantage of ranked-choice voting, selecting three different candidates as their first, second, and third choices. Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan, who finished about 2,300 votes behind winner Jean Quan before being eliminated in the ranked-choice tabulations, said Oakland voters obviously understood the new system better than San Franciscans did. "The results show that voters successfully filled out their ranked-choice ballots overwhelmingly," she said.

Of the 15 percent of voters who made a valid single choice for mayor, about one-third selected the same person first, second, and third, according to an analysis published on the web site, California Watch. Again, that's not surprising, considering that some candidates told supporters to select them as their first, second, and third choices. But picking the same person three times didn't invalidate a ballot, because it's the same as selecting just a single candidate for mayor, Hill said.

A small percentage of voters did appear to be confused, but that doesn't mean their ballots were invalid. For example, if a voter made first and third choices, but no second choice, the tabulations counted that as a first and second choice, Hill explained. Or if a voter made no first or second choice, but did make a third choice, that counted as a first choice.

A tiny percentage of voters chose more than one candidate as their first, second, or third choice. If they did that for their first choice, then their ballots were thrown out, because it's legally considered an "over-vote." But if they did it for the second or third choices, then their single first choice still counted. However, Hill pointed out that voters sometimes get confused in a regular election and pick more than one candidate. "Voters make mistakes in a lot of elections," he noted.

Harris Retakes Lead

Although the California attorney general's race remained too close to call, San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris took a 30,000 vote lead over Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley as of Tuesday morning. Harris was whipping Cooley in his home county by 13 percentage points.

The closeness of the race has prompted charges of vote-count impropriety from both sides. The Cooley camp contends that LA County vote counters are not adequately checking provisional ballot signatures and has accused the Harris camp of sending union leaders to have chats with union-member vote counters. The Harris folks, in turn, accuse Cooley's people of trying to intimidate vote counters and get legitimate ballots rejected.

Kolakoswki Wins Judges' Race

Victoria Kolakowski became the first transgendered superior court judge in the nation, defeating Alameda County prosecutor John Creighton, 51 percent to 48 percent, a difference of about 10,000 votes. "I'm deeply honored to have this opportunity to serve the people of Alameda County," Kolakowski said.

McNerney Declares Victory

Democratic incumbent Jerry McNerney declared victory over Republican David Harmer in a close East Bay congressional race. But Harmer refused to concede as of Tuesday morning. McNerney was leading by about 1,800 votes with nearly all ballots counted.

Three-Dot Roundup

The PG&E official in charge of the SmartMeter program resigned after he clumsily attempted to infiltrate an online group opposed to the meters. William Devereaux posed as "Ralph" without realizing that his real name was attached to his e-mail. ... AC Transit avoided devastating service cuts planned for next month when it reached an arbitration deal with its bus drivers' union. The settlement calls for the union to make about $38 million in concessions. ... The Oakland City Council voted to increase the number of pot clubs in the city from four to eight. ... Jerry Brown could face a $25 billion state budget deficit when he's sworn in as governor in January. ... The California State University board of trustees voted to raise student fees by another 15 percent. ... And Alameda fire Chief David Kapler resigned after he was caught fueling his personal car at a city-owned pump.