In Oakland’s elections, second choices are everything. The city’s ranked-choice voting system requires candidates to get their own supporters to the polls and gain support from voters whose first choice is someone else.

This year’s mayor’s race, which included 10 contenders, ended up being an extremely close contest between District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao and District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor.

Taylor held a narrow lead after first-choice votes were counted with 33% to Thao’s 31%.

But because neither Thao nor Taylor won more than half of the first-choice vote, the election was propelled into a ranked-choice runoff.

In rounds one through four of ranked-choice elimination, after the lowest vote-getting candidates’ ballots were redistributed to the remaining candidates, Taylor’s lead slightly shrank, from 1,596 votes to 1,329.

Then in rounds five, six, and seven, when Seneca Scott, Greg Hodge, and Treva Reid were eliminated, Taylor picked up the biggest number of votes from each of them, besting Thao. His lead grew to 3,587 votes.

But round eight was the rainmaker of the 2022 Oakland mayor’s race: Allyssa Victory, a civil rights attorney who ran a grassroots campaign that included lots of door-knocking and talking with voters on the streets, surprised many in this election by coming in fourth place in first-choice votes—besting Councilmember Treva Reid and nearly matching Ignacio De La Fuente, who served on the council for two decades. Victory’s role in this year’s mayor’s race is all the more astonishing given the fact that she almost didn’t end up on the ballot due to a mistake made by the City Clerk. Victory fought back and managed to force the city to allow her to run for mayor.

When Victory’s pile of over 14,000 votes was redistributed, Thao leapfrogged Taylor by 2,677 votes to gain the lead.

At this point in the process, Taylor’s only hope was Ignacio De La Fuente’s supporters. De La Fuente voters would need to have picked Taylor as their second choice on their ballot in big numbers to give him a chance to come back and win.

But this isn’t what happened. The 6,107 votes Taylor gained from De La Fuente was blunted by the fact that 4,112 of De La Fuente’s supporters preferred Thao. In the end, he came up short of Thao by 682 votes.

A total of 125,410 people voted in this year’s mayor’s race. Ultimately, 682 votes tipped the race, just half of a percent of the ballots cast.

Tasneem Raja is the Editor-in-Chief of The Oaklandside. A pioneer in data journalism and local nonprofit news startups, she co-founded The Tyler Loop, a nationally recognized community news platform in East Texas. She was a senior editor at NPR's Code Switch and at Mother Jones, where the team she led helped build the first-ever database of mass shootings in America. She started her career as features reporter at The Chicago Reader and The Philadelphia Weekly, and lives in Oakland with her husband and daughter.

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.