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Oakland, Calif. Elects First Female, Asian-American Mayor

Former City Councilmember Jean Quan hopes to make her office more accessible and transparent.

Former Oakland, Calif., City Councilmember Jean Quan employed an unconventional campaign tactic last year when she was running for mayor. She asked voters who preferred one of the nine other candidates to make her their second choice. “I always ask for the No. 1 [vote],” says Quan, “but I said if you can’t give me your No. 1 vote, please give me your No. 2 vote.”

The 2010 election was the first in which Oakland used ranked-choice voting, or instant runoff. Ranked-choice voting allows voters to cast their first, second and third choices. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of the vote, last-place candidates are eliminated and their votes distributed until one candidate reaches a threshold of 50 percent plus one. By asking for second and third place votes, Quan was able to beat frontrunner and former state Senate President Don Perata by a few thousand votes. Her victory immediately set off a debate about ranked-choice voting.

With her election, however, Quan becomes the first woman and first Asian-American to hold the post, as well as the first Asian-American woman to lead a major U.S. city. Oakland is now run mostly by women -- in addition to Quan, six of the eight City Council positions are held by females. What that will mean for Oakland, if anything, remains to be seen. But as mayor, Quan hopes to make her office more accessible and transparent.

Tina Trenkner is the Deputy Editor for She edits the Technology and Health newsletters.
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