Current Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, left, shares a moment with her daughter, Lailan Huen, after casting her vote at the Alamada County Registrar of Voters Office. Photo by Deana Mitchell.

Oakland voters, candidates turn out for Election Day 2014

on November 4, 2014

As the polls opened early Tuesday at the Lakeside Park Garden Center for the 2014 Oakland elections, the registrar’s staff was waiting at a table with piles of forms and literature. Outside, with the ducks on the water and the fog burning off, it looked like another autumn morning at Lake Merritt, except for the dozens of residents who had come to vote in what one called “the most interesting race in the Bay Area” — the Oakland mayoral race, that is, which this year includes a whopping 15 candidates.

From Lakeside Park to Fruitvale, Temescal Fire Station to Chinatown, voters of all ages and backgrounds (and one mayoral candidate dog, Einstein, who was denied access to a polling place to vote for himself) cast ballots today for a new mayor and several city council seats and on a handful of high-profile city, county and state measures.

This year marked the return of ranked-choice voting for Oaklanders. During the 2010 election, the preliminary count showed former state senator Don Perata leading with 35.13 percent of the vote over Jean Quan’s 24.64 percent. But after ranked-choice calculations eliminated the candidates who received the fewest first-choice votes and counted those voters’ second and third choices instead, Quan took a slight lead over Perata, and went on to win the race.

Aside from the mayoral race, the year’s most prominent issues include Measure FF, a proposal to lift Oakland’s wage floor from $9 to $12.25 an hour starting next March; Measure Z, a parcel tax that promises to fund public safety departments and crime prevention organizations; and Measure N, another parcel tax intended for college and career preparation programs for high school students, among others.

Quan kicked off election day 2014 by greeting early morning riders in English, Spanish and Cantonese at the Fruitvale BART Station: “Hi, are you going to vote today?” “Hola, puede votar?” “Nay-hole, cheng-man nay gum-tien yao tou-pyuu ma?” She passed out literature and urged passersby to vote yes on this year’s ballot measures.

Yolanda Peterson, a chef in her 40s, was leaving the polls at North Oakland’s Mosswood Recreation Center and said she felt “wonderful” about voting for mayor. “I feel like my little voice should be heard too,” she said.

“It’s important for us, for African-Americans, to vote in midterms,” said Joy Crumpton, a retired UC Los Angeles faculty member, as she was leaving the polling station across town at Grand Advent Church. Amirah Salaam, another voter, added that casting one’s ballot was important because “our ancestors weren’t even able to vote.”

But some voters were frustrated by the sheer volume of mayoral candidates. “It’s confusing,” said a Rockridge architect at the Fire Station 19 polling place who preferred not to give her name. “It’s kind of counterproductive, because obviously there are some frontrunners. But it’s a democratic process, so everybody should have a chance.”

Veronica Selver, a documentary film editor, was equally aggravated as she stood outside the Oakland Technical High School polling station. “I don’t even have a basis of comparison,” she said. “What I think is good, is this”–she pointed to the two notebooks in her hands–“the sample ballot that you get in the house and this explanation of the measures where you have everybody talking. That is smart.” She added, “I don’t like the unbelievable amount of calls that we get from the candidates before the elections. All the candidates are calling you all the time: Dan Siegel’s office is calling you, Rebecca Kaplan’s office is calling you. Yes on 45. No on 45. Barbara Boxer is calling you to support so-and-so. It’s unbelievable.”

Some residents found the choice easier. Karla Tibbetts, a stay-at-home mom who was voting at Fire Station 19, said she hadn’t followed politics before meeting current at-large City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, one of the mayoral contenders. “I think we need a new mayor. I’m not a big fan of Jean Quan,” she said. “I voted for Rebecca Kaplan.”

Retired Oakland resident Susan Black wore a Joe Tuman hat as she waved a sign in support of his campaign at the corner of 51st Street and Telegraph. Black said she is pulling for Tuman because he is not part of Oakland’s current political system. She likes Tuman’s declared goal of making the city safer by putting 900 police officers on the streets without raising taxes. “I’m tired of the same old thing,” Black said.  She said she had never campaigned before, “but he’s worth it.”

In the Mosswood Recreation Center parking lot, mayoral candidate Dan Siegel stopped people in their cars to make a final plea for their votes as they made their way to the polls. One man he stopped said he would put Siegel on the ballot, but not as first choice. “Consider putting my name higher,” Siegel urged.

Several of the mayoral candidates voted in the course of the day. City Councilmember and mayoral hopeful Libby Schaaf arrived at the county courthouse at 7:40 a.m. by herself. Her husband, Sal Fahey, was close behind with their children, Lena, 7, and Dominic, 9. Schaaf posed for pictures before casting her vote. “We spend a lot of time trying to explain that you will not hurt your first choice candidate by casting a second or third-place vote,” she said of the ranked-choice voting system. But, she added, “It’s your democratic right, so we hope people take full advantage of that democratic right today.”

At Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary School, where voting inspector Valerie Grim said 59 people had voted by 8:45 a.m., Oakland engineer Zhuo Huang, 31, found that system frustrating. “It’s too complicated. The system is not the best,” he said. “But that’s all you’ve got. I voted to make my voice count.”

Many voters were turning in mail-in ballots before work, a trend at polling places throughout the city. Claudia Jackson, director of the Unified Family Court, was delivering her mail-in ballot in person by the courthouse. “We voted by mail this year,” she said. “We spent a little extra time reviewing the propositions.” Sean Donahoe, also voting outside the courthouse, said he prefers to drop off his vote on Election Day rather than to mail an absentee ballot ahead of time, noting that it’s also cheaper to drop off an absentee ballot than to mail it.

Erich Butler, 50, was working as poll inspector at the St. Augustine Catholic Church station on Alcatraz Avenue, where at 9:30 a.m. there were seven people in line. “It’s hectic and chaotic because the workers that were assigned to the working stations initially didn’t show up,” Butler said. “I had to multitask several jobs this morning to get the polling stations working and running.”

Butler’s work was paying off for Victoria Maitland, 44, a human resources consultant from Lower Rockridge who had come to vote. “I think we need more police officers on the street,” she said. “I think we need to spend more money on education, on transit. And I was pleased to see that there is more choice this time around versus the same faces that we’ve seen time and time again.”

At 10:15 a.m., Mark Ristich, 47, stood across the street from the Montclair Women’s Club holding a sign that read “Annie Campbell Washington, Oakland City Council,” indicating his support for the candidate for the District 4 seat. Ristich works for the radio program Snap Judgment, and campaigning next to him was the program’s host, Glynn Washington, who is also the candidate’s husband. As they stood chatting, a car slowed down and a woman honked and yelled “I voted for her!”

Standing at the corner of 60th Street and MLK Jr. Way, David Kessler, a retired UC Berkeley librarian, held aloft a poster that read: “Libby Schaaf: Made in Oakland” as cars sped by, some honking.  On the ground to his left, a Bryan Parker lawn sign had been knocked over. “It was there when I got here,” Kessler said. “I didn’t do it. But I didn’t do anything to fix it.”

Not everyone was as engaged with the day’s democratic process. A man sitting at Obelisco restaurant across the street from the ARISE High School polling station in Fruitvale, who did not want to be identified, said he did not vote because he doesn’t “pay much attention to politics.”

“I’m just stuck in the rat race of making money and feeding my family,” he said.

Across town, another voter was attempting to cast a ballot. “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. I’ve never voted before,” said a tattooed, redheaded would-be voter with a nose ring at the main branch of the Oakland Public Library, who was then informed by a worker that he was at the wrong polling station.

In West Oakland, a sculptor named Marnika expressed her enthusiasm for the mayoral candidates but said she was skeptical about “whether the person elected would do what they say they’re going to do.” Marnika said she had done extensive research about the mayoral candidates and ultimately voted for Kaplan, with Schaaf and Siegel as her second and third choices. She  said she wished she better understood the differences between those candidates. “They’re all kind of fence riding,” she said.

Many polling places hit a lull in the early afternoon. At 2:30 p.m., four poll workers at the AC Transit District Office polling station in downtown Oakland, took advantage of the mid-afternoon quiet and played 20 Questions to pass the time.

“Is it an animal?” one asked.

“No.”

“Is it a color?”

“It has colors.”

“Is it a fish?”

The game continued until the answer was revealed to be a tree, and their laughter and claps echoed through the marble lobby.

Shortly before the polls closed at 8 p.m., candidates and their supporters began to gather for their victory parties. At his headquarters, where volunteers were making last-minute phone calls around 6:30 p.m., mayoral candidate Bryan Parker encouraged his supporters to keep working through the end of the polling day. “We have an hour and a half,” he said. “Let’s stay focused and make phone calls, guys.”

Alameda County Registrar of Voters Tim Dupuis said he would be posting election results throughout the night but would not apply the ranked-choice voting algorithm until the last precinct reported. “That will probably be somewhere around midnight, but it depends on how quickly the poll workers close up shop,” he said. Dupuis emphasized that an official mayoral winner will not be announced until Thursday at the earliest.

Text by Alissa Greenberg and Lena Dakessian. Photo slideshow compiled by Jacqueline Ipp. Additional reporting and photography by Romin Lee Johnson, Deana Mitchell, Gabriela Arvizu, Joshua Escobar, Melina Tupa, Chloe Shi, Alyssa Jeong Perry, Sanosi Osman, Alicia Vargas, Gina Pollack and James Pace-Cornsilk.

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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