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Mayoral candidate Jean Quan addresses her supporters at her campaign headquarters on election night, Tuesday, Nov. 2, 2010, in Oakland, Calif. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)
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OAKLAND -- In what could be a comeback worthy of "Rocky," Jean Quan scrapped her way past Don Perata in the race for Oakland mayor, and has enough votes to win outright, according to preliminary ranked-choice voting results released Friday.

But can she hold on to that lead?

With about 15,000 ranked-choice ballots still to be counted in Oakland, Berkeley and San Leandro races, the results are likely to change. The question is by how much and in who's favor?

Former state Sen. Perata held a substantial, 11-point lead in first place votes since Tuesday's election, but it was Oakland Councilmember Quan who grabbed enough of her opponents' second- and third-place votes to climb above the 50 percent majority threshold after the Alameda County registrar ran the ballots through the ranked-choice computer program Friday afternoon.

The final -- albeit unofficial -- results showed that Quan received 51.09 percent of the votes to Perata's 48.91 percent -- a difference of 1.18 percent.

"It's pretty amazing if we win," Quan said. "We've been outspent by so many millions of dollars. Win or lose, given how much money was spent, it would really be a victory for grass-roots organizing. I'm so proud."

The county received about 122,000 vote-by-mail and provisional ballots on the day of the election and county election workers have been sorting, processing and counting them all, which, at three pages per ballot, is a huge task. Registrar Dave Macdonald said that he would have preferred to wait until all the vote-by-mail provisional ballots were processed and counted before running the ranked-choice program, but at least the preliminary figures provide a snapshot of how ranked-choice voting works and "where things currently stand."

His staff will work through the weekend with the goal of running the ballots through the ranked-choice program again on Sunday. To check for updated results, go to www.acgov.org/rov/rcv/results/rcvresults_2984.htm.

The ranked-choice program tallies all candidates' first-place votes and one-by-one eliminates the candidates with the fewest votes and distributes their second-place votes to people who are still in the race.

Macdonald had said that with so many candidates it might take nine or 10 rounds before the victor was known, and he was right.

Quan still trailed Perata by more than 9 percent going into the ninth and final elimination round, but she got a huge bump of 15,426 second-choice votes from supporters of Rebecca Kaplan, who had garnered 28.76 percent of the vote before she was eliminated.

Perata received 5,133 of Kaplan's second-choice votes.

Kaplan had her best chance of overtaking Quan for second place after Joe Tuman was eliminated in the eighth round. She picked up 4,361 second-choice votes compared to 2,818 for Quan and 2,724 for Perata.

Perata spokesman Rhys Williams issued a news release late Friday that read: "It appears there might be a reversal of fortune. We're unclear about Alameda County's processes and await a final and accurate count. The mystery of ranked-choice voting continues."

Dom Arotzarena, president of the Oakland Police Officer's Association, which had endorsed Perata, said he would reserve any comment until all the ballots are counted and the official results are announced.

Indeed, the unofficial results revealed that many voters did not avail themselves of the opportunity to make a second or third choice.

There were 10,664 ballots cast that did not specify a second or third choice, and 228 that voted for the same candidate.

Staff writer Chris Metinko contributed to this story. Contact Cecily Burt at 510-208-6441.