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Jean Quan

In Oakland mayoral race, Quan takes lead over Perata

on November 5, 2010

Oakland mayoral candidate Jean Quan overtook fellow candidate Don Perata Friday afternoon in the computer-run calculation of second and third-choice votes in Oakland’s new ranked-choice voting system. Although several thousand votes remain uncounted, Quan said she’s “feeling very good” about the latest results.

With all votes except county mail-in ballots tabulated and redistributed among the leading candidates, Quan currently has 51.09 percent of the vote and Perata 48.91 percent of the vote. The Alameda Registrar of Voters has said that there are still 15,000 uncounted ballots remaining throughout the county and with only a 1,876-vote difference between the two leading candidates, the race is still undetermined. It is unknown what percentage of the uncounted Alameda County ballots were cast by Oakland voters. Dave Macdonald, Registrar of Voters, said that complete results will be announced by Monday at 4:00 pm.

“We thought it was close,” Quan said late this afternoon. “I didn’t know I’d be quite this correct.”

The Perata campaign issued a short press release this evening, calling ranked-choice voting a “mystery” but reserving further comment for the final tally. “It appears there might be a reversal of fortune,” the release read. “We’re unclear about Alameda County’s processes and await a final and accurate count.”

The newest results varied from the preliminary count on Election Day that showed Perata with a sizable lead. The first-choice results, released Tuesday night, showed Perata with 35.13 percent of the vote, a double-digit edge over Quan, but still short of the majority required to win the election outright, prompting a run-off that the registrar began to tally at 4:00 pm Friday. Quan received 24.3 percent over the vote, followed by Kaplan with 20.82 percent.

Though candidate Joe Tuman placed fourth with 11.95 percent of first-choice votes, he said he was proud to have garnered over 10,000 votes despite never having held a prior elected office. He said that he would consider running for mayor in a future election. “The door is open for many opportunities,” Tuman said. “I’m really committed to the city so I’m focused on doing anything that will help Oakland.”

Candidate Don Macleay, who received 1.37 percent of first-choice votes, said that he was glad Quan was currently leading and planned to offer his assistance if she were to become the next mayor. He praised Quan’s commitment and dedication, saying she would bring positive changes to the mayor’s office. “Of my opponents, Jean Quan has to be the hardest working,” Macleay said. “And that’s one thing that will be a change from Ron Dellums. She’ll be a breath of fresh air in that department.”

A spokesperson for Rebecca Kaplan’s campaign said they did not have any comments at this time.

With Quan pulling ahead in Oakland’s race for mayor, a hard-fought battle for the city’s top office has entered its final lap.

After current mayor Ron Dellums announced that he would not run for reelection in August, 10 candidates emerged to vie for the mayor’s office, many without prior political experience. Candidates Terence Candell, Arnie Fields, Greg Harland, Marcie Hodge, Don Macleay, Joe Tuman, and Larry Lionel Young, Jr. were relative unknowns in Oakland politics, but each put forward a unique plan to transform city government. Candidate and former state senator Don Perata had a long political history before entering the mayoral race, including four years as state senate president pro tem. Candidates Jean Quan and Rebecca Kaplan campaigned for mayor while sitting on the Oakland city council, positions they have held since 2003 and 2008, respectively.

Major issues of debate included improving public safety, overhauling the budget, and creating jobs and educational opportunities for Oaklanders. Perata promised to be an active and present mayor and to bring the budget in line through strong negotiations with public employee unions. “We’re going to have to negotiate,” Perata said in an interview with Oakland North in late September. Quan said her top priorities as mayor would be to improve public safety through the education and employment of Oakland’s young people. “Stabilizing the situation with education and jobs for our young people is at the root of our safety issue,” Quan said in an October debate at Holy Names University. Kaplan said she would focus on creating a more responsive government for the citizens of Oakland. “If you call 911 and you get no answer, that’s a responsive government problem,” Kaplan said at the same debate. (You can use this Oakland North interactive project to compare candidates’ campaign positions at a glance.)

The campaign season was often frantic and rattled by controversy. The Quan campaign leveled charges that Perata had sidestepped the Oakland Campaign Reform Act rules limiting each candidate to spending $379,000. If a candidate receives more than $70,000 from an “independent expenditure committee” they are no longer bound by OCRA restrictions, and Quan’s campaign charged that Perata’s campaign intentionally took advantage of this loophole by accepting a $70,000 donation from the Coalition for a Safer California, an independent expenditure committee composed of California correctional officers, on whose behalf Perata himself has lobbied.

Though this also lifted the spending cap for all other candidates, Perata was the only one who reported spending over the limit, and was therefore the only one who benefited from the cap’s removal.

The question of who could participate in mayoral forums also sparked debate after several local organizations adopted guidelines developed by the League of Women Voters limiting participation to “viable” candidates. Viability standards included having a dedicated campaign phone number, a physical campaign office, and campaign bank account and treasurer. Those excluded from forums for not meeting viability standards circulated frustrated emails, attributing the exclusion to political favoritism and racism.

On Tuesday, residents of Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro voted with a ranked-choice ballot for the first time. Under the rules of ranked-choice voting, a system approved by Oakland voters in 2006, voters rank their top three choices for mayor on the ballot. First-choice votes are tallied, and if no candidate receives a majority—more than 50 percent of the vote—then the last-place candidate is eliminated. The ballots that ranked an eliminated candidate as their first choice will have their second choice counted instead. The process continues until one candidate reaches a majority and officially wins the election.

Although Registrar of Voters spokespeople have said that ranked-choice voting (RCV) was implemented smoothly, Perata campaign spokesperson Rhys Williams said that the new system was an obstacle while campaigning. “RCV branding—‘voting made easy’— short-changed the public,” said Williams. “Voters we met door-to-door didn’t understand RCV. We had to dedicate campaign resources to explain a basic right: how to vote.”

Anne Spanier, a ranked-choice advocate, said that the new voting system made financial sense for Oakland, sparing the expense of a primary election, and hoped that its application in the mayoral race would increase the acceptance of the voting method. “Hopefully ranked-choice voting will be perceived as an acceptable and democratic system for choosing elected officials,” Spanier said.

Only the first-choice votes for Oakland mayor were tabulated on the night of the election. Oakland voters watched with anticipation as results began to trickle in on November 2. At 8:20 pm, the Alameda Registrar of Voters published the vote by mail results, showing Perata ahead, with Quan in second place and Kaplan in third. By a little after midnight, the registrar had reported complete results from all 254 Oakland precincts and, although the vote percentages had changed slightly, Perata maintained his lead.

The ranked-choice algorithm was run November 5 at 4:00 pm—a computer at the Registrar’s office ran the calculation—and results were announced minutes later. The results released by the Registrar are very close and Macdonald spoke about the possibility of a recount. “Anybody can request a recount,” Macdonald said. “If you want a hand count, that’s very expensive.”

Macdonald said none of the candidates had technically been eliminated and, depending on the votes on the uncounted ballots, a knocked-out candidate could come back into play. Macdonald said that nothing is certain until the final vote is certified. “It just depends on the distribution,” Macdonald said. “Who knows what could happen?”

Karmah Elmusa, Alyssa Fetini, Laura Hautala, and Shirley Lau contributed to this article.

Check out all of our Oakland elections coverage on our Campaign 2010 page.

Lead image: Jean Quan speaks at her campaign party on Tuesday. Quan is currently leading by 3 percentage points with 15000 ballots left to count. Photo by Shirley Lau.


  1. Dave Bryan on November 6, 2010 at 12:20 am

    Yay = Oakland gets the tax ‘n’ spend mayor it deserves!!

  2. John on November 6, 2010 at 8:34 am

    Thing is, more people voted against Quan than voted for her.

    96,501 voters had cast valid votes. Quan has 43,835 votes. That’s 46.4% support of the voters. 52,666 voters voted against her, for someone else, or 53.6%. This is just like a plurality election where the winner does not get majority support.

    Pretty complex voting system to just give a plurality winner.

  3. Conan Neutron on November 6, 2010 at 11:24 am

    It’s not over yet! There’s still a chance that Perata could overtake Quan in overall votes. *OR* that Kaplan could overtake Quan in the 9th round (2066 vote difference out of 15,000 uncounted) and get all of the 2nd and 3rd place votes.

    Without knowing what city those 15,000 ballots are from, it’s impossible to say until they are done on Sunday.

    Joe Tuman is out though, it’ll be one of those 3.

  4. alan m mann on November 6, 2010 at 9:36 pm

    Oakland’s unique ranked-choice voting reflects the people’s choice. Getting less than 50% of the votes is not reflective of the majority, with RCV system it does reflect the true will of the people of Oakland. It’s simple, if first and second choiced of Oaklands voters totals 51% then that candidate has the people’s mandate.

    • Tim Andersson on November 6, 2010 at 11:08 pm

      In this case though it looks like the will of the people was guided by the Survivor-like alliance building and backroom dealings of the “Not Don” crowd.

  5. Tim Andersson on November 6, 2010 at 11:13 pm

    I’m struggling with how to think of a second and third place choice. I voted only once so I don’t have this issue but do folks feel like their second place choice is valued at 1/3 less than their first place choice? Like, “man, I’d really like Fields to win but I’ll settle for Quan”? Or is it like, “Wow, there are all these great candidates out there and I just can’t pick one, I’ll vote for three!”

    Is the electorate saying, “we’d really like Don Perata to be our mayor but if we can’t have him we’ll settle for Jean Quan”?

    • peter on November 8, 2010 at 5:28 pm

      I voted with the idea that I preferred my #1, but if I had to pick a #2 I did, and same for #3. Kinda self explanatory, really. The reality is that most people didn’t feel like any one candidate was great. But no matter what, it would be whittled down to two candidates in a run off… even if both candidates only got 24% of the vote. This allows voters to continue to have a say even if their #1 choice is not elected.

    • James Huber on November 9, 2010 at 7:52 pm

      I voted for the candidate I really wanted as #1 without considering their viability, then put candidates I thought might be more viable in #2 and #3. It let me vote for an underdog without feeling like I was throwing away my vote.

  6. Michael F. Sarabia on November 7, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    Sorry to hear you, and possibly others, find this process too difficult to understand and fail to see its more effective way to reflect the will of the people. Consider this method a minor concession you make to the will of the majority. We all have to make such, from time to time and, of course, we resent it, like you do. Secret: I too found it difficult and objected but, in time, I came to see its value. Good Luck!

    • Tim Andersson on November 8, 2010 at 7:46 am

      Michael, I think you are misunderstanding my question. I’m wondering how people feel about their second and third place votes. So since you decided to respond, how do you feel about yours? Are your #2 and #3 choices like a lesser of two or three evils or do you think there were three great candidates and you just couldn’t make up your mind?

      • Jeff Fry on November 10, 2010 at 3:37 pm

        I was thrilled by the opportunity to give ranked choice votes. Like James Huber, my #1 was someone I’d love to see be my mayor, but who I know might not win enough votes. My #2 was a concession that it might come down to B or C, and of the two I’d rather have C. I like that I can vote my conscience, and if I turn out to be in the minority, still have my preference heard amongst whoever ends up with the most votes.

  7. […] votes, counting their second and third choices instead.  After the computation was run, Quan surged into a slight lead over Perata, with 51.09 percent of votes to his 48.91 percent. At that point, 15,000 mail-in ballots from […]

  8. […] votes, counting their second and third choices instead.  After the computation was run, Quan surged into a slight lead over Perata, with 51.09 percent of votes to his 48.91 percent. At that point, 15,000 mail-in ballots from […]

  9. […] were redistributed in nine rounds of elimination. Second place candidate Don Perata held the lead until the votes for Kaplan, who was in third place, were redistributed in the final round to eventual winner Jean […]

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