Analysis Shows Voters Effectively Used Ranked Choice Voting
By:  FairVote – The Center for Voting and Democracy

 Published November 7, 2010

Oakland, Calif. –  The city of Oakland, as well as the cities of Berkeley and San Leandro, all used ranked choice voting (RCV, also known as instant runoff voting) for the first time in the November 2, 2010 elections. Oakland used RCV for elections for mayor, city auditor, city council and school board. For its extremely close mayoral election, the non-profit educational organization FairVote has analyzed the electronic ballot images made publicly available on Friday afternoon by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (the ballot images are anonymous digital records of every voter’s ballot counted to that date).

FairVote’s analysis shows that of Oakland voters indicating a preference in the mayoral race, 99.8% cast a valid ballot. Furthermore, the great majority of voters ranked more than one candidate:

• 72% of Oakland voters ranked three different candidates

• 13% of Oakland voters ranked two different candidates

• 15% of Oakland voters ranked one candidate

Rob Richie, executive director of FairVote, said, “Our analysis shows that Oakland voters used ranked choice voting effectively. Nearly three-quarters of voters used all three of their rankings, a very high rate. That reflects a high level of engagement, understanding and effective use of ranked ballots. Aided by strong educational efforts from election officials and community groups, Oakland voters ‘get’ RCV.”
In the Mayor’s race, according to the ballots that have been processed so far, candidate Jean Quan has come from second place to take a lead of nearly 1,900 votes over candidate Don Perata. Quan vaulted into the lead by winning three times as many second- and third-rankings as Perata from the supporters of third-place candidate Rebecca Kaplan. An additional 12,000 or so votes remain to be counted in Oakland.

By the the time all of the ballots have been counted, approximately 106,000 Oakland residents will have voted in the mayoral election. This compares to only 83,891 voters in the June 2006 election won by outgoing mayor Ron Dellums. 27% more Oakland voters have participated in this year’s mayoral election because RCV allowed Oakland to hold a single election in November.

Steven Hill, a consultant to FairVote California, commented, “Jean Quan built an effective coalition that, according to these preliminary results, has allowed her to emerge as the pick of Oakland’s voters. While he had a sizable initial lead (of approximately 10 percent), Perata had more difficulty broadening his support base. To win under RCV, a candidate must have not only a strong core of support but also a broad base. If these results hold up, it means that more voters preferred Quan over Perata.”

Judy Cox, former co-president of the Oakland League of Women Voters, was appointed as a Ranked Choice Voting Facilitator by the Registrar of Voters for the polls  in Redwood Heights, a mixed race, middle class neighborhood. She said “I offered all voters assistance with RCV. Almost everyone said they understood RCV. Hardly anyone even asked me a question about it. My experience is consistent with what I’ve heard from RCV Facilitators across the City.”

Added Richie, “With ranked choice voting, voters benefited from a vigorous campaign with a lot of viable choices. Candidates were out there hunting for votes and support, and voters were engaged and ranking their top candidates. Under the old, two round runoff system there would have been five months of mostly negative mudslinging and a much bigger impact from big campaign spending. But with RCV, Oakland was able to finish in a single, high turnout November election, thereby saving a lot of tax dollars and allowing voters and candidates to participate in a robust electoral process. However the final mayoral results turn out, this has been a win-win for democracy in Oakland.”