From Homeless Single Mother to Oakland Mayor: Sheng Thao wins through Ranked Choice Voting

In an amazing journey from being a homeless single mother living in a car, Sheng Thao was elected mayor of Oakland. The journey is even more amazing considering that in the initial count of votes, Thao was in second place.  Because no Oakland mayoral candidate won a majority of votes, instant-runoff voting, also known in the US as ranked-choice voting, propelled her to victory.

Instant-runoff voting saves the trouble of having a separate runoff election, such as what is happening with the Herschel Walker – Raphael Warnock Senatorial Race in Georgia.  In this voting method, voters rank their preferences to candidates.  If there is no majority preferred candidate, the lowest vote getting candidate is eliminated, and those votes are redistributed according to the preferences.  If there is no majority winner, the process continues until there is a winner. This article provides excellent detail on how this worked for Thao.

The second place winner, Loren Taylor, conceded but was none too happy about ranked-choice voting. The process made for an interesting election, as coalitions of candidates formed to influence voter rankings.

Sheng Thao is the first Hmong American woman to be elected to the Oakland City Council and first Hmong American to be mayor.  She is also second Asian American woman to be elected Mayor of Oakland, the first being Jean Quan, who also won through ranked choice voting. She will have to deal with a number of challenges facing Oakland, including economic problems and crime as well as an ethics complaint.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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