The Alameda County Registrar of Voters fumbled the Nov. 8 election, sowing confusion and distrust among many voters.
The county registrar runs federal, state, and local elections in our region. This includes registering voters, setting up polling places, printing ballots and mailing them to voters, collecting and counting ballots, posting election results, and educating voters about the process.
The registrar’s missteps in last year’s elections began with poor communication with the public and the press in the run-up to the election. Our newsroom heard numerous complaints that the registrar hadn’t done enough education and outreach in Oakland and other communities about how ranked choice voting works.
For instance, the Registrar’s website included out-of-date information (including telling voters they could only choose three candidates in ranked choice races when in fact, it was five). And as the registrar’s team posted results to their website on and after Nov. 8, they failed to explain to the public and media the process for counting ballots and publishing updates, including when the final results would be available.
This left everyone—the media included—wondering about the final outcomes and needlessly speculating. All of this was happening against a backdrop of serious problems that had marred the 2020 election, most notably over 100 ballots lost at a polling center due to a lack of training and oversight by the registrar.
Then came a doozy of an announcement. Tim Dupuis, who leads the registrar’s office, issued a press release on December 28 admitting his team had tabulated votes incorrectly for ranked-choice races. This included every race in Oakland, as well as elections in San Leandro and Berkeley. The error was discovered by FairVote, a nonprofit group that supports ranked-choice voting, while it was double-checking the registrar’s work.
The error resulted in the wrong candidate, Nick Resnick, being certified as the winner in Oakland’s District 4 school board race. This mistake had to be fixed through a lawsuit brought by Mike Hutchinson, the candidate who actually won. Even after the registrar acknowledged his mistake, Dupuis and his team did not quickly hand over records to interested parties that could have helped clear things up. According to Resnick’s attorneys, the registrar’s office ignored their public records requests.
The registrar’s mistake didn’t cause an incorrect outcome in the Oakland mayor’s race. But many Oaklanders still wanted to learn more about what went wrong.
This included us, the journalists at The Oaklandside. In fact, we had been asking Dupuis and his staff for information about the mayor’s race long before the ranked-choice errors were discovered. Our newsroom had called and emailed the registrar repeatedly for several weeks, asking to learn more about the recount that some groups were requesting in late November and early December.
Groups like the NAACP wanted a recount because the margin of victory for the winning candidate, Sheng Thao, was less than one percent over the second-place candidate, Loren Taylor. Except for a two sentence email sent to us by Dupuis on Dec. 14 telling us unnamed parties had requested a recount, the registrar ignored our questions, making it difficult to report on a matter of intense public interest.
Because we weren’t getting answers over the phone or email, we filed a Public Records Act request seeking information about the possible recount of the Oakland mayor’s race. Under the state Public Records Act, government agencies must hand over most types of records (documents, letters, emails, datasets, photos, text messages, and much more) within ten days. Short extensions are permitted, but an agency has to communicate that it needs more time and has a good reason for asking for it.
Later, after the registrar admitted to mistakes in counting ranked-choice ballots, we filed another Public Records Act request to learn more about how such a massive error could happen.
But again, the registrar’s office ignored us. In February, working with the legal firm Davis Wright Tremaine, our attorney sent them a letter demanding they follow state law and respond to us. They didn’t. Finally, we filed a lawsuit against the Alameda County Registrar of Voters seeking to force them to hand over records related to the Nov. 8 election. You can read our lawsuit here.
Since filing this lawsuit, we’ve convinced the county to start producing some of the records we’ve asked for, including communications between Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis and various people who were asking about a recount in the Oakland mayor’s race back in November and early December. But at this point, we’re still waiting on the majority of records we requested.
In addition to obtaining the documents we asked for, we’re also intending to send a clear message to the registrar and Alameda County that the public and local media expect our election officials to be more forthcoming and transparent about how they’re administering elections.
Filing public records requests is a normal everyday activity for us. It helps us understand the issues. And sometimes, it leads to stories. If any of the records we obtain from the registrar through this lawsuit merit a story, we’ll write one. But we’re also posting the records we obtain as a result of this lawsuit on this page so anyone can view them. Check back occasionally to see new records as we post them. We expect to receive several batches of records before the end of April.
First batch of records
Correction: the original version of this story stated that the NAACP supported Loren Taylor’s campaign for mayor. The group did not officially endorse Taylor.