Alameda County’s newly elected officials were set to take office in a matter of days. But just last week, Alameda County election officials announced that a programming error in the vote-counting process had miscounted ranked-choice votes across all election races — moving one candidate for a district school board director from third place to first, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
The Registrar of Voters said that it became aware that its ranked-choice voting tally system was not configured properly for the November 2022 General Election right before Christmas, affecting all races but only the results of the District Four school board director race, the official press release stated. The county had already certified the results when it realized the error, and used a corrected algorithm to recount the votes.
While nearly all of Oakland’s school board elections results remained the same, the winner of the seat for district covering the Oakland Hills and some East Oakland neighborhoods had flipped. The first reported winner was Nick Resnick, the CEO of an education company, but with recalculations, Mike Hutchinson, a current District 5 school board member, comes out ahead, according to the Chronicle. Resnick was also reportedly set to be the first transgender person to be elected to a school board in California.
Questions still remain over what went wrong — and what happens now. The registrar’s news release neither declared Hutchinson the winner or corrected the previous vote counts available on its website, although officials reportedly did update the candidates, the school district and the secretary of state. So it’s still unclear if there can even be a new winner when the vote count has already been certified.
Hutchinson told ABC7 that he was surprised by the results as his camp had not challenged the election results, resulting in the recount. "This came from FairVote, who is a group that has worked on ranked-choice voting nationally. And they did an audit that kind of led to this, I've now discovered, but this didn't come from me as a candidate or my campaign," Hutchinson said to the TV network.
The news also apparently came as a shock to Resnick. "I received a call yesterday with unprecedented information from the County Registrar," Resnick reportedly said in an email to ABC7. "No new information than you can find via the registrar statement. I have the same questions as everyone else. I'll keep people updated as I learn more information. I remain committed to supporting the students, parents and educators in OUSD."
The ranked-choice voting system that Alameda County uses allows voters to rank candidates rather than only choosing just one. According to Chronicle, “The counting process rolls lower-ranked votes into candidate tallies as opponents are mathematically eliminated until one reaches more than 50% of the vote. The system ensures that one candidate gets a majority vote without a costly runoff election.”
Alameda County's press release stated that in this election, an erroneous algorithm didn’t count any vote if one space in the multiple choice ballot was blank, instead of advancing whichever choice was below it, as it was supposed to.
"It should have been configured to advance ballots to the next ranking immediately when no candidate was selected for a particular round," the release read. "This means that if no candidate was selected in the first round on the ballot, then the second-round ranking would count as the first-round ranking, the third-round ranking would count as the second round ranking, and so on.
"For the November 2022 General Election, the setting on the County’s equipment counted the RCV ballots in the manner in which the ballot was completed, meaning no vote was registered for those ballots in the first round of counting because those voters did not identify a valid candidate in a particular rank on the ballot."
Apparently, the Chronicle reported, that led to more than 200 ballots being suspended in the Oakland District Four race and not counted correctly — and 115 of the suspended votes were for Hutchinson.
Mistakes aren’t unusual on individual ballots, but a system-wide miscount is cause for concern, election experts say.
Sean Dugar, executive director of the California Ranked Choice Voting Coalition, told the Chronicle that “the registrar is going to have to do something to restore trust in our system. In Oakland, (trust is) even lower because some were confused about the results of the mayor’s race.”
Image via Unsplash/Ronan Furata.