The question of who will be Oakland's next mayor remained unsettled today with Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald saying it's taking longer than expected to count several thousand provisional ballots.
The only thing that's clear is that the winner will be either former state Senate President Pro Tem Don Perata, who was the strong frontrunner among votes that were counted on Election Day, or City Councilwoman Jean Quan, who barely pulled ahead of Perata in an unofficial tally of ranked-choice votes that was announced on Friday.
Macdonald had hoped to announce a winner at 4 p.m. yesterday, but he told a large group of reporters who gathered at his office that many provisional ballots still need to be examined, and he's not sure how much longer that will take.
He said he values "accuracy over speed" but acknowledged that Oakland residents are anxious to find out who the winner is.
Macdonald declined to promise when he will announce the final results. He said they could be available on Tuesday but said it also might take at least several more days.
Quan told reporters at a news conference outside City Hall that she had hoped to learn yesterday if she's the winner, but she now understands that the results may not be released until Friday.
"We're running on nerves," Quan said, flanked by about 20 supporters, including Assemblyman Sandre Swanson, D-Alameda.
Perata didn't talk to reporters, but his campaign released a statement saying, "While we share Oakland voters' frustration of waiting for a conclusive outcome, we also support the County Registrar's commitment to the democratic process."
Ten candidates entered the mayor's race, and on election night, Perata was comfortably in first place with 35 percent of the vote. Quan was a distant second with only 24 percent.
But Perata wasn't declared the winner because his total was far below the 50 percent threshold needed for outright victory.
In the ranked-choice voting system that's being used in Oakland for the first time this year, voters ranked their first three choices, and the second-choice votes of the lower-place finishers are distributed to the candidates who are still in the race until someone gets at least 50 percent.
In an unofficial, 10-round computer algorithm that Macdonald described as "a snapshot," Quan picked up enough second place votes from lower-ranked candidates to edge past Perata on Friday.
In that tally, Quan wound up with 51.09 percent of the vote to 48.91 percent for Perata. She had a 1,876-vote margin over Perata, 43,825 votes to 41,949.
Quan said her information is that the Registrar of Voters office tabulated about 10,000 absentee ballots over the weekend but still needs to count several thousand provisional ballots.
She said her gap over Perata "is very encouraging," but she can't yet claim victory.
"We're cautiously optimistic," Quan said.
But Perata's campaign said in its statement that his lead over Quan has grown every time first-choice voting results are updated.
"With thousands of votes still uncounted, we believe this lead will continue to grow," the campaign said.
Perata's campaign said that although the first run of ranked-choice voting software "produced an unusual outcome," it remains confident that "Oakland voters' clear first-choice preference for Sen. Perata as Oakland's next mayor will hold true once every ballot has been certified and counted."
Macdonald said provisional ballots are problematic votes that might be smeared, might have been cast by people who went to the wrong polling place, or might have been cast by people who were not registered but were still allowed to vote.
The process of counting those ballots is time consuming because each vote is examined individually, he said.
Macdonald said he and his staff haven't had any days off for four weeks and are now working 10 to 12 hours a day to finish counting ballots in Oakland and the rest of Alameda County.