The close Oakland Mayoral election, which resulted in City Councilwoman Sheng Thao defeating her closest opponent, City Councilman Loren Taylor, by less than 1,00 votes, faced increased calls for a recount on Wednesday, with many prominent groups back in the effort.
The Oakland Mayoral election was one of the closest large-city Mayoral elections in California history. Throughout the summer and fall leading up to the election, the race was a virtual dead heat between Thao and Taylor, with candidates including former City Councilman Ignacio De La Fuenta, City Councilmember Treva Reid, and attorney Allyssa Victory also receiving high marks. Oakland’s unusual method of voting, a ranked-choice system that allows voters to vote for up to three candidates, but must rank them under a first, second, or third vote, with the end votes then being tallied up, was called out by many for being a major issue and confusing for voters during the election.
Despite that, and major scandals coming forward only about a week before the election, the election ran smoothly on November 8th. However, the close election, as well as a large number of mail-in ballots and a high turnout by Asian and Black voters, the base voter bloc for Thao and Taylor respectively, prevented a winner from being declared. Despite more votes coming in, the race was still neck-to-neck throughout most of November.
However, on November 22nd, Thao took the ranked-choice lead by 680, being enough for Taylor to concede. In a concession speech he congratulated Thao while also slamming the ranked-choice system, as he would have easily won if the system was based solely on a standard one vote system. He also said that he would not call for a recount.
“Seeing that the mere ballots that are out there, the possibilities of getting a few votes in our direction, are not going to tip the scale,” said Taylor in late November. “I can see that Sheng Thao will be certified as Oakland’s next mayor.”
The final results coming out changed things though. In the final tally, Thao had come in second place in first round voting, getting 39,654 votes, or 31.8% of the total, while Taylor coming in first with 41,252 votes, or 33.1%. Those two made it to the final round where all votes were tallied, knocking out all other candidates including third-place de la Fuente who had 10.3% of the vote.
In the final round, Thao managed to scrape together 56,841 votes, or 50.3%, to Taylor’s 56,161 votes, or 49.7%. While Thao won, many citizens and groups demanded a recount. On Wednesday, the Oakland branch of the NAACP announced that they were accepting donations for a recount, as the process is expensive. Since there are no automatic recount laws in place in Alameda County, all recounts need to be funded by non-public entities, with voters or committees asking for it to happen themselves. As the cost of a recount in Oakland would come to around $100,000, it made raising the amount needed considerably difficult.
A narrow victory for Thao over Taylor
“Many of them have also expressed concern that in the case of a very close election, even in the event of a difference of very few votes, that there is no automatic recount under any circumstance in Alameda County,” said the NAACP. “They were also discouraged by the fact that the cost is likely to be well over $100,000 for an individual or community led recount process according to Alameda County officials.”
The NAACP and other groups also said that they believe there is enough of a discrepancy in the voting, with around 3,000 being considered “overvotes” and not counted, 5,000 that didn’t vote for any Mayoral candidate, and 11,000 that only voted for one candidate.
Bay Area elections experts noted to the Globe on Wednesday that a recount, even if done, would likely not have an effect.
“It would surprise a lot of people if Thao didn’t get a victory again,” explained Bay area pollster Greg Kim to the Globe on Wednesday. “Ranked choice isn’t exactly the most popular system, but it is just as accurately counted as any other election. Thao just had a bit more of support. Taylor realized than in his concession speech. Although, he was a bit hypocritical when he called out the ranked choice system. He won in a ranked choice system himself a few years back for City Council, and he wasn’t rallying to remove it then. And let’s not forget the 2010 Oakland Mayoral race when Jean Quan also came in second in the first round of ranked choice, then came out ahead. The NAACP is just mad that the guy they supported lost in a close race it seems.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, it is currently unknown if a recount will be ordered for the election.
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