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‘Restore trust’: Alameda County establishes election oversight commission

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With overwhelming board and community support and in order to restore trust, an ordinance to create an elections oversight commission was unanimously approved June 6.


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JUNE 20, 2023

When running for a position as Oakland Unified School Board’s District 4 representative, Mike Hutchinson said he was prepared to accept any outcome. He was notified of the results in early November: He had lost by 41 votes in a ranked-choice election with more than 26,000 ballots.

However, the election didn’t end there. In December, Hutchinson said he received a phone call from the County Registrar informing him of an error in tabulating election results. After a recount of the 235 ballots in question, Hutchinson was found to have won the election by 37 votes.

Hutchinson said the error was identified after outside groups conducted a vote audit after the election and notified the registrar of the anomaly. When voters left the first-choice blank, instead of counting the second-rank as the first, the algorithm used to tabulate votes suspended the ballot altogether.

In an effort to “restore trust” after the November 2022 election, District 5 supervisor Keith Carson proposed an ordinance to create an elections oversight commission, which the board unanimously approved June 6, according to his chief of staff Amy Shrago. The ordinance had “overwhelming” board and community support, Shrago said.

The commission will comprise 13 total voting members: four community members, five district supervisor-appointed members and an additional four representing selected organizations, such as the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the League of Women Voters, according to Shrago.

Alameda County’s registrar will bring election plans before the commission, which will review and make suggestions, Shrago noted. Following elections, the commission will again review how the election was conducted and make changes if necessary for future elections.

“Supervisor Carson hopes this step helps to restore people’s confidence in the work that the registrar does,” Shrago said.

After his election, Hutchinson also noted that groups began demanding recounts in other races, citing the errors in the District 4 election. Although his own election was nonideal, Hutchinson said it was reassuring that the error was caught in time, showing “that this system works.”

Ultimately, Hutchinson said his election was a “unique situation,” one brought about by the particularly slim margins.

“If creating this commission is going to add to our election integrity or if it’s going to make it easier for people to trust and believe the legitimacy of the system and the process, I’m all for it,” Hutchinson said. “But if this is just for show or playing politics for certain groups who are upset about what happened in the last election, then it probably won’t do much.”

Shrago said the commission will hopefully result in more expertise in election oversight processes, including people experienced in election technology.

Once members are appointed, the commission will likely meet in the coming months and start working with the registrar to review and plan the March 2024 primary election. The application for community member commissioners is currently open on the Alameda Board of Supervisors website, according to Shrago.

“Elections are one of the most important things we do in a democracy and we want to make sure people have faith in that system,” Shrago said.

Contact Elise Fisher and Swasti Singhai at [email protected].

JUNE 22, 2023