Oakland Mayoral Recount 'Forfeited' After Supporters Fall Short of Covering Cost

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A voter drops off their mail-in ballot at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters in Oakland on Oct. 27, 2020. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

A potential last-minute recount in Oakland's razor-thin mayoral race will not move forward, after supporters of a new ballot count couldn't meet a Friday morning deadline to foot the hefty bill for it.

The Oakland NAACP requested the recount for November's election, in which Oakland City Councilmember Sheng Thao was declared the winner after finishing just 677 votes ahead of Councilmember Loren Taylor. The election used a ranked choice format, allowing voters to choose up to five candidates, in order of preference.

Although Taylor received the most first-place votes, Thao gained the lead after second-place votes were tallied as part of the automatic runoff process.

Taylor conceded the election to Thao last month and said he wouldn't pursue a recount effort, despite criticizing the ranked choice process as undemocratic. Thao is slated to begin her four-year term in office next month.

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Allie Whitehurst, the local NAACP's political action chair, said the group was only notified by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters late Thursday that the request for a recount could move forward, and was told the cost would be $21,000 per day.

Dwayna Gullatt, spokesperson for the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, said the recount was scheduled to begin on Friday morning, but "was forfeited due to nonpayment of deposit."

"We did not have $21,000 to turn in today," Whitehurst said at a Friday press conference outside the Alameda County Superior Courthouse in Oakland. "I should note that the letters were received yesterday. I didn't know until I went outside around 10 [p.m] that this was on my porch."

Whitehurst said the letter indicated that the NAACP was not the only group to request a recount.

"We want the recount to happen, and, you know, giving a one-day notice is just not sufficient," she added.

Leaders of the group contend that many voters in the city were not properly educated about the ranked choice system, and that a recount was appropriate in such a close race.

"Members, including many seniors, expressed frustration with the lack of voter education provided by the County Registrar's office around ranked choice voting and the lack of information regarding the change from selection of three candidates to five in the City of Oakland's Mayoral race," the group said in a statement this week.

California law does not set an automatic threshold to trigger a recounting of votes. Instead, any voter is allowed to file a written request for a recount, but must also pay for the daily costs of reviewing ballots. Those payments are only refunded if the result of the election is changed.

Local election officials are required to notify candidates if a recall will take place in their race. On Friday morning, Allyssa Victory, who finished fourth in the mayoral race, tweeted a photo of a letter she received indicating the recount would begin that morning.

In a Friday statement to KQED, Mayor-Elect Thao said she welcomed any recount effort to ensure an accurate tally.

"I send my thanks to the dedicated and hardworking staff at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters for doing the diligent work to ensure every vote was counted in this close election," said Thao.

KQED's Dana Cronin contributed to this report.