Don Perata didn’t like it one bit. The former Bay Area state senator had lost a nail-biter of a mayor’s race in Oakland, Calif., and Perata, who’d outspent his rivals, felt like his victory had been snatched from the jaws of … victory. “If this were a normal election, I would’ve won in a landslide,” Perata said in his concession speech in 2010. Perata’s definition of “normal” was a plurality system. The system is familiar to most voters: It’s the sort of race in which you select one candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. The election, however, was Oakland’s first to employ ranked-choice voting. So Perata’s claim — he won the most first-place votes, some 34 percent of the total, 11,000 more than City Councilor Jean Quan — didn’t mean squat.
Quan was mayor-elect. She had racked up more than 24,500 second- and third- place votes. Because neither she nor Perata had reached the 50 percent threshold with their first-place votes, Quan’s broader base of support was decisive.
“Candidates who can build a coalition using those ranked ballots are going to do well,” Steven Hill, co-founder of the group FairVote, told The New York Times after Quan’s upset win.