Oakland School Board Member Avoids Runoff Vote

By J. Douglas Allen-Taylor
Thursday June 12, 2008 - 10:00:00 AM

A quirk in the way in which the Alameda County Registrars Office posts online election results caused the Daily Planet to misreport one of last week’s races. 

In a story published last Thursday, “Challenges to Oakland Council Incumbents Fizzle,” the Planet reported that incumbent 7th District Oakland School Board member Alice Spearman was facing a November runoff against challenger former Acts Full Gospel Christian school principal Doris Limbrick after Spearman failed by 0.07 percentage points to get 50 percent plus one of Tuesday’s votes. 

That result was based upon Wednesday morning postings on the election results website of the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, which listed that the results were “100 percent reported.” The percentage refers to the number of precincts reporting a final count in their vote, but is easily construed to mean that the full election total count has been completed. 

In fact, even as the Registrar was reporting a 100 percent result on its website, the East Bay Express was reporting on Wednesday that “thousands of absentee [ballots were] still to be counted,” quoting Registrar of Voters spokesperson Guy Ashley as saying that the remaining count consisted of absentee ballots turned in to precincts on election night. 

The final count gave Spearman 50.59 percent of the vote, avoiding a November runoff in the District 7 School Board race.  

Reporting election results by precinct percentage—and not including a website notation that some absentee ballots may still remain to be counted—is a common practice in California, with Contra Costa, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Santa Clara counties all reporting precinct percentages in the same way as Alameda County. 

While indicating that he was “not making any excuses,” Alameda County Registrar of Voters spokesperson Guy Ashley said that the problem has arisen because of the recent massive rise in absentee voting in California. “In 2002, 10 percent of the votes cast in Alameda County were absentee,” Ashley said. “Now it’s over 50 percent, with a large number of those absentee votes turned in to the precincts on election day. It used to be that you could report the results about 2 a.m. after the counting of the precincts, and that was pretty much it. But now we end up with a sizable number of ballots to be counted after the precinct results have come in.” 

Ashley said that he would discuss with Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald a suggestion that until all of the absentee votes are counted, a notation be placed on the election results website indicating that there are still votes outstanding that “might” affect any given race. 

“We want to make sure anyone going to our website gets the correct impression,” Ashley said. 

Meanwhile, according to Ashley, all votes have been counted in the Alameda County races as of Monday afternoon, with the possible exception of what he said “could be a small number of damaged absentee ballots that have to be re-marked” and then counted. Ashley “did not know for sure” if any such damaged ballots still remain to be counted.