Oakland mayor's race shows the power of coalitions in RCV elections

Oakland City Council member Jean Quan may overcome a 10-point deficit to become mayor of Oakland.

The Oakland mayor's race appears to be demonstrating the ability of political coalitions to use a ranked-choice voting strategy to topple an established frontrunner, overturning the conventional wisdom that the top finishers on election day will usually hold their leads through the tally of everyone else's second and third place votes.

That anomaly is also on display in San Francisco, where it appears the top finishers in supervisorial districts 2 and 10 may lose to the second or even third-place finishers. A preliminary run of the ranked-choice voting (RCV, also known as instant-runoff voting) tally was run in SF on Friday, and elections officials will do another one this afternoon, although votes are still being tabulated and the final results won't be known for several days.

“Ninety-five percent of the time, RCV doesn't topple the top finisher,” political analyst Alex Clemens said at SPUR's post-election wrap-up on Nov. 4, a point echoed by his co-presenter, political consultant David Latterman, based on their research of voting pattern in Australia and other countries that have used the system for some time.

They said the results only change when the candidates finish within a few percentage points of one another, as is the case in San Francisco. But in Oakland, mayoral candidate Don Perata finished almost 10 percent points in front of Jean Quan (34 percent to 24.6 percent), with Rebecca Kaplan close behind at 21.5 percent.

Yet Perata, a classic Democratic Party power broker who once served as president of the California Senate, is disliked and distrusted among the progressives and other grassroots voters who liked both Quan and Kaplan, who encouraged their supporters to rank the other candidate second. And that strategy appears to have paid off.

After 10 round of eliminating candidates and redistributing their votes – with Kaplan the last go, and her votes breaking 3-1 in Quan's favor – the preliminary results show Quan winning with 51.1 percent of the vote to Perata's 48.9 percent.

Wow, talk about the power of political coalition-building.


It also shows a kind of popular disdain for the fore-ordained, insidery politics of which Debra Walker is the local example. She spent two years (if not five) lining up all the endorsements, Hillary-style, trying to take on the mantle of inevitability, such that Jane Kim was almost accused of disloyalty by people who are with her on 99 out of a hundred other issues. It seems OAK voters couldn't stomach another machine lifer just pressing the up arrow and expecting them to fall into line. I don't think people have really assimilated all of what IRV means, but it is working and they will get used to it, and it will really break the power of insiders to determine the outcome of races. It is a great thing.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 11:54 am

This isn't just a victory for progressives, but a victory for IRV, which worked exactly the way it should. I also love the fact that consultants can't wrap their heads around it yet. To them, that's a bug, but to me, it's a feature of the system.

Posted by Greg on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 2:19 pm

Re: The first comment

Give me a break - Jane Kim moved into District 6 to get onto the Board. Talk about opportunist political maneuvering! And the people that stand with Jane 99% of the time also stand with Debra 99% of the time. Get over yourself. If you think Debra Walker is an "insider" in some way that Jane Kim is not equally, pass me some of what you're smoking because that's some potent stuff!

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

Wow, a coalition IRV strategy that actually worked! Great to know and thanks for posting.

Posted by Luke Thomas on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 7:11 pm

The support of Willie Brown and Rose Pak makes Jane Kim the poster child of "insider."

Posted by Guest on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 8:24 pm

I know this may come as a shock, but Oakland electing a progressive mayor might not have anything to do, whatsoever, with what happened in district 6 of the town with the good baseball team, usurious rents, and a law against sitting.

Posted by Greg Shaw on Nov. 09, 2010 @ 11:44 pm

Great comment, Greg. SF's loss is Oakland's gain!

Posted by Larry-bob on Nov. 11, 2010 @ 11:03 am