After changing her address, Asha Bland, re-registered to vote during National Voter Registration day with her son Bryant Bland, 3.

Oakland readies for election with National Voter Registration Day

on September 26, 2012

For 18-year-old Hugo Flores, registering to vote for the first time felt unfamiliar.

This year’s election will make him the first eligible male in his family to vote. Although his older sister has voted before, he was still left with more questions than answers.

“She never told me anything about it,” Flores said, as he leaned over the voter’s registration table at a special Tuesday public signup in front of the Alameda County Administration Building in Oakland. But now that he has a job working with children, Flores said, he believes he should set the example for his young students.

“I am going to be encouraging them to vote, and encouraging them to go around and make other people vote,” Flores said. “I don’t want to be a hypocrite, saying ‘Go vote, go vote,’ and I am not voting myself.”

With 41 days left until the November general elections, Flores was one of about 100 new and re-registering voters who filled in their name and addresses in blue boxes to join the rest of Oakland’s voters—currently about 196,000, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voter’s Office.

Information tables from the registrar’s office and the NAACP’s Voter Education and Voter Registration division lined the front of the administration building throughout the lunch break as part of Oakland’s participation in National Voter Registration Day, a nationwide nonpartisan campaign to sign up as many new voters as possible in a single day.

According to the National Voter Registration Day website, six million Americans did not vote in the 2008 elections because they missed a deadline or didn’t know how to register.

As oldies music from the O’Jays played in the background, attendees at Oakland’s event had the chance to register, learn about California voting laws, and hear from Barbara Lee, the Democratic congresswoman from Oakland, on why voting is more important than ever since some states have implemented new voter ID laws.

“A lot is at stake,” Lee told the crowd.  “It’s no coincidence that since the beginning of 2011, 176 restrictive voting laws have been proposed in 41 states. It’s no coincidence that 14 states have already passed restrictive voting laws to date, and it’s certainly no coincidence that many of these states started the process of imposing unfair restricted voting immediately following the 2008 election of President Barack Obama.”

For the county Registrar of Voter’s office, the goal is to not only register more voters, but to ensure people participate in the upcoming elections—“not just register to vote,” said county Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald, “but actually get out and vote on election day.”

But that level of excitement appears to have diminished greatly, according to Macdonald. “That may change as we get closer to the election,” he said.

Although the Oakland event focused on voter registration and raising voter awareness, Lee reminded the crowd about states like Pennsylvania and Texas, which have drawn special attention for their new efforts to impose voter ID requirements.  Critics have argued that these laws are designed to keep minorities, who often favor the Democratic Party, from voting.

If all such restrictions were to be adopted around the country, Lee said, almost 5 million people would be affected.

In California, Lee observed, Gov. Jerry Brown last week signed a series of election reform bills that should make the voting process a little easier.  The new laws permit election-day voter registration, and also implement an online system that allowed 110,000 Californians to register within its first week of operation, according to the office of the California Secretary of State.

“I am very proud of California,” Lee told the crowd. “We are way out in front of other states.  So right now, for this election, we’ve got to make sure these laws in California are upheld and that people fully participate.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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