Sheng Thao is leading in Oakland’s mayor’s race

City Councilwoman Sheng Thao, whose strong relationships with labor unions earned her support from progressives, is on pace to be Oakland’s next mayor after election results Friday saw her vault to take the lead from Councilman Loren Taylor.

Thao’s comeback was forged when nearly 30,000 more ballots were counted Friday night. It’s unclear how many ballots are outstanding, but the registrar’s goal was to count “the bulk of the remaining ballots” before the weekend. Thao now holds a 50.30% lead in ranked choice results to Taylor’s 49.70%, a margin of about 680 votes.


The race to be Oakland’s next mayor has unfolded like a slow-burn thriller, with the city’s ranked-choice voting format pushing Thao firmly back into contention this week after she fell behind early.

But it is vote transfers from candidate Allyssa Victory, a political newcomer with openly progressive views, that helped Thao overcome a stronghold of support for Taylor, political veteran Ignacio De La Fuente and former Councilwoman Treva Reid.

It was also Thao’s overwhelming support from Oakland’s labor unions, which spent large sums of money to back her campaign. Zac Unger, the head of the firefighters union, said both outside expenditures and direct campaigning helped Thao reach voters throughout the city.

“We had a strong ground game made up of rank-and-file working people in Oakland who did our best to contact as many people as possible, starting early and until the last minute,” Unger said.

What fueled Thao’s resurgence after early results indicated Taylor was on path to victory? It is difficult to be certain, since so little data is currently available about how different precincts or council districts voted.

Nor do the results — the vast majority of which are comprised of mail-in ballots — say much about in which parts of the city votes were counted first.

Taylor and Thao’s campaigns have been almost entirely radio silent this week, repeatedly declining press interviews but promising to speak up when all the votes are counted.

Oakland’s ranked choice format reliably keeps political experts from making bold proclamations early into the rollout of results.

And many who follow the city’s politics learned not to trust first-place vote margins after city council member Jean Quan in 2010 blew past former state Sen. Don Perata in that year’s mayoral election — the first time Oakland voters were asked to rank their choice candidates. It took 10 rounds of ranked choice voting tabulations for that final result.

Alameda County’s very drawn-out reveal of the election results could lead some to believe ranked choice voting is to blame. But tabulating those votes does not take much time – the delay in results is more due to the proliferation of mail-in ballots during the pandemic, Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis said earlier this week.

In every simulation of ranked choice results to this point, it takes nine full rounds for someone in Oakland’s 10-candidate mayoral race to reach a clear majority of voters’ support.


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