Don’t Expect Immediate Election Results

It could take the Alameda County Registrar of Voters several days to a week to determine the outcome in tight races involving ranked-choice voting.

The election is less than a week away, but don’t expect definitive results in the Oakland mayor’s race on the night of November 2. Same for close election battles throughout the East Bay. In fact, it could be several days to a week after Election Day before final results are known in several tight contests. The reason? Ranked-choice voting, the new voting system being used in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro.

Ranked-choice voting requires that all absentee and provisional ballots are tabulated before the Alameda County Registrar of Voters can declare official winners in close races. And it could take several days to a week before that happens. “It’s a drawn-out process,” explained registrar spokesman Guy Ashley.

On election night, the registrar’s office will only post the results of voters’ first-place selections in all ranked-choice races in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro — and only for absentee ballots cast before Election Day and regular ballots cast that day at the polls. Registrar Dave MacDonald plans to begin using the ranked-choice system, which includes the tabulation of second- and third-place choices, on Friday afternoon November 5. But the actual winners of close contests probably won’t be known until all of the thousands of absentee and provisional ballots expected to be cast on Election Day are counted. Those ballots can be slow to process, because each signature on each ballot must be verified and the registrar must make sure that voters didn’t vote twice.

“We expect absentees to account for more than 50 percent of the vote, and a good chunk of that is going to be people dropping off their absentee ballots on Election Day,” Ashley noted. “We’ve beefed up staff to deal with it, but it’s not just a matter of ripping open envelopes and counting the ballots.”

In the 2006 Oakland mayor’s election, it took the registrar more than a week to declare Ron Dellums the winner because the ex-Congressman’s totals kept nudging above and below the 50 percent mark every time a new round of last-minute absentees and provisionals were counted. This year is further complicated by the fact that the Oakland mayor’s race is so crowded and appears to be so close. Polls from last month showed ex-Senator Don Perata with only a slight lead over Councilwoman Jean Quan, with Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan running third, and college professor/news analyst Joe Tuman in fourth.

The apparent closeness of the race means that none of the candidates is likely to receive 50 percent of the vote with just first-place choices. And that means the winning candidate is going to need plenty of second- and third-place selections to come out on top. But for that to happen, the registrar’s computer program must first eliminate candidates with the fewest number of first-place votes. And it’s problematic to officially eliminate candidates until all ballots are in and counted.In addition to the Oakland mayor’s race, other expected tight contests include: the Oakland City Council race for District Four, Berkeley City Council races for districts four and seven, Berkeley school board, San Leandro mayor, and San Leandro City Council.

Forecasting Statewide Races

With less than a week to go, it looks as if former Oakland Mayor Jerry Brown likely will win the governor’s race. A poll by the respected Public Policy Institute of California showed him with an eight-point lead over Meg Whitman, 44 percent to 36 percent. And then a poll by the Los Angeles Times/University of Southern California had him ahead 52 percent to 39 percent. Whitman appears to be proving once again that you can’t buy elections in California. It appears that the mega-wealthy ex-CEO of eBay wasted more than $140 million of her own money on the race.

The contest for US Senate, however, appears to be much harder to forecast. Recent polls had been showing Republican Carly Fiorina closing ground on Democratic incumbent Barbara Boxer, but then the LA Times/USC poll over the weekend had Boxer up by eight points, 50 percent to 42 percent. Still, conservative corporate interests think Boxer is vulnerable and they planned to pour millions into the campaign before Election Day.

Proposition 19, the marijuana legalization measure, also is hard to pin down. And it may have to do with voters’ reluctance to tell pollsters that they’ll vote to legalize pot. Recent polls conducted by live callers showed Prop 19 losing by a large margin, but polls using automated calls had it winning in a big way.

Proposition 23, the anti-green measure bankrolled by out-of-state oil companies. appears headed for defeat. But Proposition 26, which would make it tougher to levy fees on polluters, may be too close to call. However, Proposition 25, which would lower the two-thirds requirement to pass a state budget to a simple majority, appears on its way to victory.

Three-Dot Roundup

An East Bay Congressional contest has garnered national attention because it’s the closest House race in California and it could tip the balance of power in Washington, DC. The tight race features incumbent Democrat Jerry McNerney of Pleasanton against Republican conservative David Harmer of San Ramon. … The US military began accepting applications from openly gay recruits last week for the first time after a California federal judge overturned “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” But it only lasted one day because a federal appellate court granted the Obama administration’s request for stay until the case finishes the appeals process. … And the Emeryville City Council finally said “no” to a big retailer, voting unanimously last week to scuttle a plan by IKEA to open a customer pickup warehouse in a semi-residential neighborhood.


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