One year ago this week, the voters or Oakland went to the polls to choose a new mayor. Former President pro tem of the State Senate Don Perata finished first in the initial wave of voting with 34% of the vote. But Oakland has a ranked-choice voting system (also known as instant runoff voting) in which the voters rank their choices in order for mayor. When candidates with low vote totals are eliminated, voters who had voted for those eliminated candidates first had their second and third choice votes redistributed.
City Councilwoman Jean Quan, who trailed Perata by nearly 10% after the first round, picked up enough of those second and third place votes to capture the mayor’s chair. Progressive coalitions that backed Quan and third place finisher Rebecca Kaplan convinced supporters to rank them high on their ballots. After ten-rounds and Kaplan’s elimination, Quan edged Perata 51.1% to 48.9%.
Now Quan is trying to deal with the volatile Occupy Oakland mess with protesters upset at her for calling out the police, business owners furious with the mayor for allowing protesters to disrupt their businesses, the police department questioning her orders on handling the protesters, and a recall petition has been filed against her.
Maybe Perata won by losing.
There has been criticism recently that the rank voting system confuses voters and that the result of the election is not one that a majority of voters desire.
A San Francisco Chamber of Commerce poll earlier this year reported a high degree of uncertainty from voters about the system. That is significant because San Francisco will be choosing a mayor tomorrow using the ranked choice voting system. With sixteen candidates in the race, there is a possibility that the majority choice could be overcome in later rounds as occurred last year in Oakland.
Back in Oakland, the recall effort will move forward. If it qualifies for the ballot, will Perata give the job another try? The recall rules will favor the high voter getter. But given what is going on in Oakland, the question is, does he still want the job?