Thursday, November 4, 2010

County Election Results Released Friday May Be Erroneous

By Robert Gammon
Thu, Nov 4, 2010 at 3:46 PM

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters plans to release preliminary ranked choice voting results Friday afternoon, even though it won’t be close to counting all the of the ballots cast in the election. And that means the results in close races in Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro could show some candidates winning when they may actually end up losing.

As of this morning, 122,000 late absentee and provisional ballots still needed to be counted from throughout the county. Registrar Dave MacDonald said today that he would prefer to wait until his office counts all of the outstanding ballots before running the ranked-choice computer program and releasing the results. The program eliminates candidates with the fewest number of votes, and then adds voters’ second or third choices to the remaining candidates. However, the program can create problems if it’s run too early and shows candidates being eliminated when they shouldn't be -- because those candidates may move up in the rankings when all the votes are in. “You’re preaching to the choir,” MacDonald said after being asked whether it would make more sense to wait to run the ranked choice program until all the votes are in and counted.

Nonetheless, MacDonald plans to go forward with the premature tabulations Friday afternoon. He said that his office feels obligated to do so because it’s conducting the election on behalf of East Bay cities. And he said that the City of Oakland, particularly, the City Attorney’s Office, was adamant about doing it Friday.

But City Attorney John Russo said today that he doesn’t care whether MacDonald runs the ranked-choice program Friday or next week. “Accuracy is paramount,” he said. He also said that it wasn’t his office that pushed for the early count. It was the ranked-choice voting advocacy groups that were instrumental in bringing the system to the East Bay. Nevertheless, Russo said that he believes MacDonald should live up to his commitment to run the count as planned.

Steven Hill of the New America Foundation, a ranked-choice advocacy group that helped bring the system to Oakland, said he thinks there’s nothing wrong with running the computer program before all the votes are in. He said that the public has a right to know the status of various races now — even if the results change later.

Ranked choice voting advocates are also worried that delays in releasing preliminary results will cause impatient voters to become frustrated with the new voting system. If that were to happen, it could slow or halt the spread of the voting system to other cities.

But there’s also the possibility that voters will sour on ranked choice voting if the registrar releases results that show a candidate winning, and then that candidate ends up losing. It also raises questions of fairness as to whether the registrar should show results of candidates being eliminated from a race before all the votes have been counted.

Clarification: An earlier version of this post may have given some readers the mistaken impression that running the ranked choice voting program before all the votes are counted will actually eliminate candidates who have reveived the least amount of votes so far. The post should have been more clear that candidates are not in fact eliminated until all the votes are counted and the ranked choice voting program is run for the final time.

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