by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey, Oakland Bureau Chief
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) is a hot topic in Oakland right now, after the long count of mayoral election ballots shows Asian candidate, Sheng Thao, beat out Black candidate Loren Taylor by a very thin margin of votes. Allyssa Victory, the most progressive and grassroots candidate in the election, did great and proved herself to be a political force to reckoned with in Oakland, in part because of RCV.
Many in the Town still do not totally understand the process that Oakland uses to elect its mayor, so I approached two highly respected Oakland community servants to weigh in on this political topic that we should take note of because this process will be used in future elections.
“I support the ranked-choice voting (RCV) system, which has been in place for over 10 years in Oakland. RCV is generally more efficient to administer and fund, and we vote in an election only once. RCV is an instant runoff system where voters should rank candidates in order of preference with their ranked choices only being counted if and when their first choice is eliminated in the process,” explained 2022 Oakland mayoral candidate and lawyer Allyssa Victory.
“It allows for collaboration or slating among candidates. The issues I see are with education and engagement on how the system works for voters and for candidates.”
Selena Wilson, CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center, made another astute observation: “I don’t think that RCV is inherently bad, but as it currently stands, I have major concerns. Five thousand voters listed a duplicate, because they didn’t understand how RCV works, and their votes weren’t counted. Five thousand is more than seven times the winning margin of the race. That’s the issue,” she said.
Asian City Councilwoman Sheng Thao was elected the mayor of Oakland in the November election with fewer than 700 votes over her leading competitor, Black City Councilman Loren Taylor. Many in Oakland’s Black community called foul when watching the seemingly Banana-republic tactic of not educating the populace on the RCV process beforehand, and some say while also ripping the true victory fraudulently out of the hands of a centrist Black candidate. It appears to be an advanced form of voter suppression in the Black community.
“And for those asserting that anyone raising concerns about ranked-choice voting is just a sore loser, let’s be clear: My biggest concern is not who sits in the mayoral office as a result of the election. My biggest concern is who decides to disengage from the process in the future, if we don’t fix it,” explained Selena Wilson.
It appears to be an advanced form of voter suppression in the Black community.
There are two sides to every coin; in this case, it is the voter perspective as well as the candidate perspective.
Grassroots candidate Allyssa Victory explained what she observed: “As a candidate for mayor in the 2022 cycle, RCV helped me in my voter outreach. Even if people were committed to another candidate as their No. 1, it was very easy to ask voters to place me in their Top Five after educating them on RCV.
“RCV also helped me when I was placed in the People’s Progressive Choice slate. People backing the slate did their own outreach, flyers etc. in support of voters ranking me in their Top Three with Sheng Thao and Greg Hodge.
“Similarly, many endorsing and supporting organizations did not just select one candidate but multiple in a ranked endorsement and provided collective support. The RCV system allowed for broader and overlapping support with other candidates. I did not have to be directly competitive but focused instead on RCV messaging and education.
“While I was not elected mayor, I received over 10,000 first-place votes and ultimately came in fourth out of 10 candidates. I survived to the seventh of nine ranked choice rounds ultimately transferring over 14,000 votes to the remaining candidates. No one received close to the required 50% plus 1 of the vote to win, based on first place votes alone. My voters were likely to rank others, and their rankings were decisive in electing the next mayor of Oakland.
“RCV works best when candidates support the strategy and coordinate their campaigns. RCV helps small budget campaigns by combining resources and influence of multiple campaigns. A strong slate of candidates should partner,” advised mayoral candidate Allyssa Victory.
“A lot of folks in my community already don’t feel as though their vote counts and don’t trust the process. To restore faith in RCV, I think that there needs to be a major investment in voter education; and no, I do not mean brochures. We need in-depth, hands-on voter education processes,” lamented EOYDC CEO Selena Wilson.
JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.