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Oakland’s Nov. 8 election should be long over. The county registrar finished counting ballots in November, and the county and city certified the results in December.
But an error made by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, the county department responsible for running local elections, has cast doubt on the accuracy of the results in at least one Oakland race, the school board representative for District 4.
It’s also led some local groups and officials to call for more accountability and transparency regarding how the office is run and how local elections are administered.
This week, the stakes got higher. On Thursday, just days before Oakland’s newly elected officials are to be sworn in on Jan. 9, Alameda County Supervisor Keith Carson called for a manual recount of several ranked-choice races, including the Oakland mayor’s race, by an independent third party, to be paid for by the county.
With all the disagreement and confusion about the outcomes of the Nov. 8 election and the role of the registrar’s office in administering the election with transparency and accuracy, The Oaklandside constructed this timeline to help people better understand how we got here. Notice anything missing or have questions about the timeline? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oct. 25: The Alameda County Registrar of Voters begins processing mail-in ballots for the Nov. 8 election, which included local races like Oakland mayor, City Council districts 2, 4, and 6, Oakland school board districts 2, 4, and 6, and lots more.
Nov. 8: Election Day. By the end of the night, early results show Oakland’s District 6 Councilmember Loren Taylor with a slight lead in first-round votes for Oakland mayor. Taylor has 35% of the total vote, with District 4 Councilmember Sheng Thao in second place with 29% of the total votes counted. Over half the ballots still need to be counted.
Nov. 10: With thousands of votes still uncounted, leaders begin to emerge in the three Oakland school board races: Jennifer Brouhard and Valarie Bachelor hold comfortable leads in districts 2 and 6, respectively. District 4 is a much closer race, however. Nick Resnick leads by less than 1,000 first-place votes over Mike Hutchinson, with Pecolia Manigo a close third.
Nov. 17: As more votes are counted, Mike Hutchinson overtakes Nick Resnick in the District 4 school board race after the county runs its latest ranked-choice tabulations. The difference between the two candidates is incredibly thin, with Hutchinson leading 50.2% to Resnick’s 49.8%—a difference of only several hundred votes. “This is an extremely close election,” Hutchinson tells The Oaklandside. “It’s really still going to depend on how many votes are still left out there to be counted.”
Nov. 18: Late on Friday night, the Alameda County Registrar releases its final vote tallies for all Oakland races.
Nick Resnick appears to be the winner of the District 4 school board race, finishing with 51.3% of the votes after ranked-choice tabulations. After finishing with more first-place votes than Hutchinson, Pecolia Manigo takes second place with 48.7% of the ranked-choice votes. Hutchinson finishes with the least amount of first-place votes and is eliminated in the first round of ranked-choice tabulation.
In the mayor’s race, Taylor still has the most first-choice votes, but Thao emerges as the winner through the ranked-choice runoff by picking up the most support from voters who selected her as a second, third, fourth, or fifth choice on their ballot. But Thao’s margin of victory is very small, just 677 votes, less than one-half of one percent of the total votes cast.
Nov. 22: Loren Taylor concedes to Sheng Thao, saying he will not request a recount despite Thao’s slim margin of victory.
But Taylor also criticizes ranked-choice voting, calling it a form of ”voter suppression.” He points to the large numbers of exhausted, blank, and overvote ballots—19,000—and asks why these voters’ ballots weren’t factored into the final results.
[Editor’s note: Exhausted ballots were those in which voters did not select either of the final two mayoral candidates, Taylor or Thao, as one of their choices and so were not included in the final runoff tabulations.
Blank ballots were those in which a voter didn’t pick any candidate for mayor.
Overvotes happened when a voter made an error by ranking too many candidates in the same slot, meaning they may have selected both Taylor and Thao as their first choice, for example.
Even local supporters of ranked-choice voting have said the fact that there were 3,000 overvotes in the Oakland mayor’s race was a problem that should be addressed in future elections, mainly through more voter education.]
Dec. 13: The Oakland chapter of the NAACP calls for a recount of the Oakland mayor’s race. The chapter’s president, George Holland, cites Thao’s narrow victory as the main reason for the request.
Dec. 14: The registrar confirms that it has received several formal requests for a recount in the mayor’s race and that it plans to begin the recount on Dec. 16—but only if it receives a payment of $21,000 that day from the parties seeking the recount. Under state law, any registered voter can request a recount of an election, but they’re required to cover the cost.
Dec. 15: The head of the office of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, Tim Dupuis, sits down for a lengthy interview with Oakland video blogger Zennie Abraham [full transcript]. Abraham questions Dupuis about the accuracy of the election results. Dupuis says he’s confident of the results.
Dec. 16: The recount for the mayor’s race is canceled. No one shows up to pay the required $21,000 per day it would cost to have upwards of 50 staffers conduct the hand recount. The Oakland NAACP says it thinks the county should cover the cost of the recount.
Dec. 20: The Oakland City Council certifies the 2022 election results for races in its jurisdiction, including Sheng Thao and Nick Resnick as the respective winners for mayor and the District 4 school board seat.
Dec. 28: Resnick receives a phone call from Dupuis, alerting him that there were errors in counting votes in the OUSD D4 race. “I received a call out of the dark, after Christmas weekend, from Tim Dupuis, sharing that I was still absolutely the certified winner but that he’d made a mistake in the technology when it was run and that there were some different counts in my race and he had to make me aware of that,” Resnick told The Oaklandside in an interview on Jan. 5. The Oaklandside reached out to Dupuis to learn more about this call, but Dupuis did not respond.
Hutchinson also receives a call that day from Dupuis, who, according to Hutchinson, tells him that the original vote tally was incorrect and that he—not Resnick—is the winner of the District 4 race after a re-tabulation of the votes.
“I know that I won the election. I’ve been told so by the person in charge of elections,” Hutchinson told The Oaklandside on Jan. 3. “I’m going to do everything that I can to make sure that I am able to serve in the position that I was elected to serve in, and that is now Oakland School Board District 4.” The Oaklandside also tried to verify this call with Dupuis; he did not respond.
Late in the day, the registrar’s office releases a statement saying that it made an error in all of its ranked-choice tabulations because the “tally system was not configured properly.” Hundreds of ballots that listed no first-choice candidate were kept out of the ranked-choice runoff until the second round when they should have been included in the first runoff round. The registrar said only one Oakland race was “impacted” by the error: the District 4 school board race.
Dec. 29: While not advocating explicitly for a recount of the mayor’s race, Taylor calls for greater transparency and oversight in local elections and for publicly funded recounts for close races.
Dec. 30: Sheng Thao issues a statement via email about the registrar’s error, noting that it only impacted the OUSD D4 race.
She adds, “[I]f the Registrar of Voters chooses to conduct a hand recount in the Mayor’s race, to bring additional assurance that every vote was counted accurately, I welcome it fully. Free, fair, and accurate elections are a hallmark of our democracy, and it is critical for every voter to know that their vote was counted accurately.”
Jan. 2: Sheng Thao is sworn in as mayor of Oakland, per Article III, Section 302 of the City Charter.
Jan. 3: The Oakland NAACP releases another statement demanding a manual recount of the mayoral election in light of the registrar’s acknowledged error in the official count.
Jan. 5: Hutchinson and his attorneys file a legal challenge with the Alameda County Superior Court, alleging that he is the rightful winner and petitioning the county to annul Resnick’s victory and declare the race for Hutchinson.
Resnick and his attorney send the county registrar a three-page letter questioning the office’s authority to re-tabulate the vote count after the election results had already been certified, requesting all documents related to that decision, and requesting that the registrar cease taking further action until the facts can be reviewed.
Loren Taylor urges residents to observe a special meeting of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors later that day and make a public comment. “How will trust in the election process be restored?” he says on Twitter.
At the meeting, District 5 Supervisor Keith Carson calls for an independent recount with a focus on ranked-choice races that were potentially impacted by the registrar’s mistake. In addition to the Oakland mayoral and District 4 school board races, this could also include races in Berkeley and San Leandro.
In a memo, Carson writes that the new review should focus on the races whose outcomes were called into question by the tabulation error, including the Oakland mayoral and District 4 school board races.
During the meeting, Dupuis explains that the machine that runs the county’s ranked-choice tabulations was mistakenly set up to use an algorithm that “suspended” ballots that lacked a first-choice selection, meaning they were set aside and not counted in the first round. Oakland’s ranked-choice voting law, however, says the algorithm should have moved those second-choice votes up a notch to be counted in the first round.
Jan. 9: Inauguration Day. Newly elected Oakland school board members Jennifer Brouhard, Valarie Bachelor, and, presumably, Nick Resnick are scheduled to be sworn in along with Mayor-elect Sheng Thao. But this is only a formality for Thao, who has already been sworn in and acting as mayor since Jan. 2.
This is also the day of OUSD’s first school board meeting, where the directors will be expected to pick a new board president and vice president.
Jan. 10: The Alameda County Board of Supervisors vote unanimously to seek a recount of several races in the Nov. 8 election that used ranked-choice voting to select the winners, including the Oakland mayor’s race and the hotly contested Oakland Unified School District, District 4 seat. The supervisors didn’t state a timeline during their meeting about when the recounts of the mayor’s race and other elections might begin.
The supervisors also decide to establish an Alameda County Elections Oversight Committee, although the proposal is thin on details about how the committee might work.