Concurrent with the statewide general and national midterm elections earlier this month, the city of Oakland, California, elected its mayor. For the first time, the city used the Alternative Vote (instant runoff). The result was a bit of a surprise, in that longtime Democratic Party powerhouse Don Perata was expected to win. However, he lost to Jean Quan, who will be the city’s first woman and first Asian-American mayor.
From the San Francisco Chronicle:
When first-place votes were initially counted after the Nov. 2 election, Quan had just 24 percent, and Perata had 35 percent. But Quan proved to be a more popular second and third choice among supporters of the other eight candidates, and in the end, she had 51 percent to Perata’s 49 percent.
This is, of course, exactly how the system is supposed to work: ensure the election of the majority-supported candidate in the event that the candidate with the most first-preference votes is short of 50%+1 of the total votes cast. But the Perata camp is not amused. His political consultant called ranked-choice voting “an injustice” and the result a “travesty” because his candidate won 78% of the precincts, and led by a margin of 10 percentage points.
“In any other contest, it would be a landslide win, not an election loss.”
Normally, even in the realm of first-past-the-post elections, we do not think of plurality candidates with 35% as landslide winners, but Perata himself said:
“I don’t understand how ranked-choice voting works.”
Just as obviously, Quan did.
Quan had been campaigning for months for people to vote for “anybody but Don.” She had told supporters to list City Councilwoman Rebecca Kaplan as their second choice.
Kaplan, in turn, told her supporters and others to list Quan second or third.
The strategy paid off for Quan when Kaplan, who finished third, was eliminated and her votes redistributed. Quan won 75 percent of them – pushing her from a 10,372-vote deficit to a 2,058-vote victory.
Perata, the Chronicle notes, never told supporters whom they should list second or third. And, apparently, never appealed for any other candidates’ second choices. Stupid strategy, given the electoral system.