This week, Oakland elected Jean Quan mayor, the first woman to hold the job. She will also be the nation’s first female Asian-American mayor. But the real story is how she was elected. November 2010 marked the introduction of ranked choice voting (RCV) to several Bay Area cities’ ballots. San Francisco residents have been using RCV since 2004, but for Berkeley, Oakland and San Leandro, this was the first time residents – and candidates – got a taste of the new system.
Candidate Don Perata, former President Pro Tem of the California State Senate and current lobbyist for the CCPOA, a powerful state prison guards’ union, apparently ran his campaign as he had with previous campaigns, telling supporters simply to vote for him. Jean Quan and fellow candidate Rebecca Kaplan did their homework, formed an alliance, and instructed supporters to rank them first and second. Their campaign slogan? Vote Anyone But Don.
Although Perata won the majority of the first place votes, he lost in the instant runoff when the vast majority of the second and third-place votes went to Quan.
Perata never told supporters whom they should list second and third. As he pulled ahead on the strength of first-place votes on election night, he was asked by a KTVU-TV reporter what he thought would happen next.
“It’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t understand how ranked-choice voting works.”
It might be too late for Don, but future candidates would do well to read up on it.