The Alameda County Board of Supervisors is considering ordering the county Registrar of Voters to conduct a recount for all ranked-choice races in the Nov. 8 election, including the races for Berkeley City Council in districts 1 and 8 as well as an OUSD school board race where an error apparently led to the wrong candidate being certified as the winner.
Supervisor Keith Carson called for the potential recount, which could cost hundreds of thousands, in a memo to his colleagues, saying election outcomes have been “called into question” due to mistakes made by registrar Tim Dupuis and his staff.
Carson wants an independent third party to oversee a recount of the elections, possibly a registrar from another county. Under his proposal, Alameda County’s registrar would pay for the recount, and representatives of the Democratic and Republican parties and good government groups would observe. (Under state law, any member of the public can observe ballot counts for elections.)
At Thursday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, where Carson’s recount proposal was considered, Dupuis gave a presentation to explain the errors his staff made.
According to Dupuis, the problem was that the county’s ranked-choice voting tally system, a machine that uses an algorithm to conduct the ranked-choice runoff, was not configured properly. Ballots where a voter mistakenly didn’t select a first choice but did pick candidates for their second, third, fourth, and other choices were “suspended,” meaning they were set aside and not counted in the first round.
According to Berkeley’s ranked-choice voting law, the algorithm should have been set to take the second-choice vote for these ballots and treat them as first choices, so they would be counted in the first round.
By suspending some of these blank first-choice ballots, the results in the first round weren’t entirely accurate, meaning that the wrong candidates could have ended up in last place.
According to the registrar, when they re-ran the ballots through the tally system with the proper configuration, only one race had a different outcome.
In the OUSD District 4 race, Nick Resnick was certified as the winner on Dec. 20. But when the registrar used the correct algorithm, Mike Hutchinson was no longer eliminated in the first round due to his suspended ballots, and in the second round, he was able to pick up enough of the third-place candidate’s second-choice votes to defeat Nick Resnick.
There is no indication the error affected the two contested Berkeley City Council races that were on the ballot in 2022.
There were just 32 suspended ballots in the race for council district 1, where incumbent Rashi Kesarwani won by 380 votes, and third-place candidate Tamar Michai Freeman trailed the top two by a wide margin. Reached by phone Friday, second-place finisher Elisa Mikiten said she is not demanding a recount in the race and does not expect the outcome will change.
Although her race was not affected, Kesarwani wrote in a statement that she is “aghast” at the registrar’s error.
“We need an expeditious correction of the vote totals for all ranked-choice elections countywide, and I call on the registrar to provide more information about when and how that will occur,” Kesarwani wrote. She also asked California’s Secretary of State to audit the registrar “so that safeguards can be identified and implemented in order to ensure that this debacle never happens again.”
The ranked choice system did not come into play in Berkeley’s district 8 election, where Councilmember Mark Humbert won more than 60% of first-choice votes.
At Thursday’s supervisors’ meeting, Dupuis said a recount of all the ranked-choice races for Oakland and possibly the other cities that used the system, Berkeley and San Leandro, could take weeks or months to complete.
Since the error was discovered by outside groups and brought to the registrar’s attention, candidates in the Oakland school board race have signaled that they plan to take legal action. Hutchinson said he plans to file a lawsuit to overturn the certified results, which still have Resnick as the winner. Resnick has retained attorneys and demanded documents from the registrar.
The supervisors didn’t vote during Thursday’s meeting on Carson’s proposal to conduct a recount, but plan to bring the item back to next Tuesday’s meeting.