Sheng Thao addressing her supporters on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022. Credit: Saskia Hatvany

The gap between the top two candidates in the Oakland mayor’s race appears to be slowly shrinking as more ballots are counted, meaning the outcome of the election will probably remain unknown for days to come.

The registrar has counted approximately 62,000 ballots in the mayor’s race so far. In a typical Oakland mayoral election, about twice this number of voters weigh in on who they want to run the city, so there could be another 60,000 ballots, or more, that still need to be counted. At the county level, 291,000 ballots have been counted, and there are another 238,000 that still need to be processed.

The most recent election data posted by the county registrar on Nov. 14 shows Loren Taylor leading the 10 candidate field with 52% of votes after ranked-choice tabulations. Taylor has held the frontrunner position since the first results were released on Nov. 8.

However, with the last batch of ballots counted, Sheng Thao appears to be chipping away at Taylor’s lead.

Election data released on Nov. 10 showed Thao trailing by 2,765 votes. The current election results have Thao trailing Taylor by 2,373 votes after the ranked-choice process is run. As a result, Taylor’s lead has shrunk from 6.6% to 4.2%.

“The outcome of this election is still up in the air, with thousands of ballots remaining to be counted,” Thao tweeted Monday afternoon. “This is a close race and we have a real shot at pulling through.”

Taylor also tweeted yesterday, saying he believes he will prevail once all the ballots are counted. “Our lead in this race remains strong, and we’re confident in our position.”

Counting votes in the era of universal mailed ballots takes time

Both Taylor and Thao thanked election workers Monday for diligently processing ballots, which takes over a week because Alameda County sends ballots in the mail to every registered voter for each election. Many voters mail back their completed ballots, or they deposit them in drop boxes, and lots of voters do this on or near Election Day. This can result in delays in delivery and a slow count. Election officials must count every ballot they receive if it was postmarked on or before Nov. 8 and arrives up to seven days after the election.

For Thao to overcome Taylor’s lead, the rest of the ballots that need to be counted would have to trend heavily in her favor. But other races in Alameda County appear to be showing that candidates who identify as progressives, like Thao, have an advantage with ballots counted later in the process. 

Election observers note that progressive voters tend to procrastinate and vote on or just before Election Day, causing their ballots to be counted later in the process. In contrast, moderate and more conservative voters tend to send their ballots back much earlier; these ballots are counted first.

The race for Alameda County District Attorney has gotten a lot tighter with the latest ballot count. Terry Wiley, an assistant district attorney who is endorsed by outgoing DA Nancy O’Malley had a three-point advantage over civil rights attorney Pamela Price as of last Thursday. But the latest results show Price has moved to within one percentage point—a margin of just 1,914 votes out of a total 228,000 ballots cast.

The June 7 primary election also saw progressive candidates gain more votes in late counting. Sheriff-elect Yesenia Sanchez led incumbent Gregory Ahern with 47% of the vote on election night and her lead increased with each new batch of ballots counted. Sanchez ended up winning with nearly 53% of the vote.

And in the June 7 election for county Superintendent of Schools, Alysse Castro trailed incumbent L.K. Monroe after the first three rounds of results were issued, but Castro took the lead on the third day of counting and ended up winning with 53% of the votes.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.