Update on Registrar of Voters Review of
OUSD District 4 Suspended Ballots
After the Alameda County Registrar of Voters (RoV) had certified Nick Resnick as the winner of the OUSD District 4 race in the November 2022 election, the RoV learned that his office had incorrectly applied Oakland’s ranked choice voting (RCV) process by suspending 235 ballots (of about 26,000 cast for this office) that the voting machines read as not designating a first choice. Suspending these ballots meant that the additional RCV choices on these ballots for the D4 position were not counted.
According to the RoV, and based on a review of publicly-available information showing the ranked choices designated in each of these ballots, Mike Hutchinson would have been the winner had Oakland’s RCV process been correctly applied according to the City Charter. Upon being advised of the error, Mike Hutchinson initiated litigation to overturn Nick Resnick’s certification. The parties to the litigation – Nick Resnick and Mike Hutchinson – agreed that the suspended ballots would be extracted and reviewed, with an opportunity for the parties to challenge individual suspended ballots. This process was independent of the County Board of Supervisors’ resolution calling for recounts of certain races, as reported in the media.
The League was among organizations invited to observe the court-ordered extraction and review of suspended ballots. Helen Hutchison and Deborah Shefler (Oakland League) and Kathleen Quenneville (Piedmont League) served as League outside observers during the review February 6-7, 2023.
Teams of RoV workers performed the extraction and review, overseen by RoV supervisors and counsel for the RoV, Alameda County, and the parties, a total of about 20 people. It appeared that cameras recorded this process. In the extraction/review room, large screens displayed information to the outside observers, including the ballots themselves, and kept track of how many ballots had been reviewed, and how many were cast for each candidate. The attorneys for the candidates were allowed to challenge ballots, which were designated with a pink tag. The attorneys were not required to state a reason for challenging ballots.
We observed the following irregularities in some ballots: no first choice specified; no choice specified in more than one column; choices specified only in columns four and five; cross-outs after a bubble was filled in; a first choice bubble filled in for a write-in candidate, but no candidate designated or a comic name designated (e.g., John Wayne); more than one candidate designated as second or third choice; and choices designated outside the bubble.
After the review, the RoV agreed to fulfill the parties’ pending government records requests by February 15, and to submit a summary report to the court detailing its process and findings by February 17. The judge set a trial date of March 16, 2023, a step toward resolution of the dispute.
Our action item take-aways from observing this process:
1) It is concerning that the RoV did not properly configure the voting machines to reflect Oakland’s RCV system. The Board of Supervisors (BoS) needs to continue its oversight of the RoV, and the League should designate representatives to monitor the BoS’ oversight of the RoV.
2) Some voters appear not to understand RCV, resulting in suspended ballots. Though ballot completion information is available on the RoV’s website, more voter education is needed, as well as clear instructions on the ballot itself, about how to complete a ballot. The League can help with voter education.
3) The RoV needs to improve ballot layout for RCV, in consultation with RCV experts and community representatives. Specific issues include:
a. Consideration of whether ranking options should be limited to the number of candidates for a particular position.
b. Better differentiation of the line for the write-in option, from the line for the last candidate listed. The write-in line seems to have confused some voters, as it immediately followed the line for the last candidate with no differentiation. Several voters chose “write in” without writing in the name of a candidate, suggesting they may have meant to choose a listed candidate.
4) The RoV did not enforce behavioral rules for outside observers. The RoV should either fully enforce its stated rules or change the published rules to something they are willing and able to enforce.
by Kathleen Quenneville (LWVPiedmont) and Deborah Shefler (LWVO)