The seemingly simple results of the 2014 Oakland mayoral election have by now been broadcast far and wide: District 4 City Councilmember Libby Schaaf won with 29.43 percent of first-choice votes, trailed in second and third place by current Mayor Jean Quan and Councilmember At-Large Rebecca Kaplan. But an interactive map released by the Alameda County Registrar of Voters sheds more light on how complicated the election’s outcome really was. The map includes public data about each precinct’s winners, as well as its turnout and the way its constituents voted.
This week, unofficial numbers indicate that Schaaf received as many first-choice votes (29,983) as her two closest competitors, Quan and Kaplan, combined (15,724 and 14,608, respectively). These totals have not been certified by the registrar’s office, which has 28 days from the election to declare a winner. But they are not expected to change because the office’s initial count of same-day, mail-in, and provisional ballots was completed on November 12. The registrar’s map is based on these not-yet-certified but complete numbers.
The map is a treasure trove for anyone interested in examining the nuances of the election outcome or Oakland’s current political landscape. “We’re very proud of it,” said Tim Dupuis, Alameda County Registrar of Voters. Oakland North spent time with this map, analyzing its wealth of data, but readers who want to see for themselves can use this link or the one above to go directly to the registrar’s website. Click the “plus” and “minus” symbols to zoom in and out, use the color-coded key to interpret the winners of each precinct, and press the “i” information symbol to see a pop-up of the exact breakdown of votes in a given precinct. (A precinct is a voting area within a city council district; there are 275 precincts in Oakland.)
Data obtained from the map challenge the idea that Schaaf won in a landslide. Instead, they suggest that while she took her home turf (the hills areas, including Districts 1 and 4) easily and by a wide margin, other precincts were more closely contested—a situation intensified by low voter turnout overall.
Throughout her campaign, Schaaf was closely associated with support from voters in the hills areas—typically white, middle and upper class residents—which some have said carried her from a District 4 council seat into the mayor’s office. The registrar’s map does not do much to refute this claim: A wide swath of the green that symbolizes the precincts where Schaaf won covers the hills precincts, from North Oakland and the Berkeley border almost all the way down to San Leandro.
A closer look shows that Schaaf did, indeed, lead by her most substantial margins in District 4 and the surrounding hills areas. For example in precinct 244200 in Montclair, Schaaf received 235 votes out of 487 and led her nearest competitor (San Francisco State University professor Joe Tuman) by more than 150 votes; Tuman came second in the majority of District 4 precincts. But Schaaf’s margin over opponents was slimmer in the southern end of the hills and closer to the flats, where she frequently earned her green precincts by fewer than 50 votes. For example, in precinct 346100, on the edge of Districts 4 and 6, Schaaf won with 88 votes, while Quan came second with 86 votes.
This was a rare good showing for Quan in what was once also her home district. (Quan served as councilmember in District 4 from 2003 to 2011.) In an extreme case, she trailed fourth behind Schaaf, Tuman, and Courtney Ruby (who received 3.04 percent of the entire race’s votes) in precinct 245200, which borders District 1. More typically, she came in second behind Schaaf, as in precinct 213700, north of Piedmont, where she trailed Tuman by 22 votes and Schaaf by 194.
District 1 school board representative Jody London said her constituents seemed to have made up their minds to oust Quan from office: “A lot of people I talked to wouldn’t vote for Mayor Quan no matter what,” she said. London said she observed Schaaf’s outreach efforts in her district, where volunteers for the campaign worked at the Temescal farmers’ market. She noted that District 1 is especially powerful because of its large volume of registered voters. “To win in any election, you have to win District 1,” she said.
But Schaaf’s margin of victory was slimmer moving west toward the Longfellow neighborhood. Here, attorney Dan Siegel made inroads. In this area, he came in second in the majority of precincts and even won a few toward the southern border with District 3, which covers most of West Oakland. There, he won several more precincts—but none by more than 35 vote margin. (Siegel’s highest-margin victory was precinct 335300, just over the District 3 border in Pill Hill, where he beat Schaaf 118 votes to 79.)
Siegel’s cluster of precinct wins along the San Pablo Avenue corridor (as well as the precincts he won further south in the Fruitvale area) correspond loosely to areas where he did his pro bono work against gang injunctions in 2011. “I think the work that I and others in my office on social justice issues over the years had an impact,” Siegel said in a phone interview. “People who live in those areas and are impacted by police conduct were very receptive to our message.” His firm, Siegel and Yee, represented suspected gang members who were monitored by the Oakland Police Department and whose actions were restricted by the injunctions in an effort to curb crime in the city—a program that was deeply controversial.
But Schaaf’s victories in her home district and parts of District 1 did not necessarily equal a landslide in the rest of the city, where other candidates nipped at her heels. In District 1’s precinct 333100, close to downtown and including the staunchly upper-middle-class Adams Point neighborhood by Lake Merritt, Schaaf won with 105 votes, but Kaplan trailed by only nine. The race for mayor was even tighter in the flats districts of 2, 5, and 7, where many precincts had nearly three-way ties. These resulted in a colorful patchwork pattern on the registrar’s map, with Kaplan represented in purple, Quan in coral, and Bryan Parker in teal. Schaaf’s numbers were particularly spotty in the Fruitvale, despite her five years as chief of staff to former District 5 city councilmember Ignacio De La Fuente.
Quan and Kaplan mostly ruled that area, but the votes were close no matter which way they split. In Fruitvale’s precinct 361000, Schaaf tied with Kaplan at 50 votes, and she edged out Siegel by only two votes in nearby precinct 347110. Not half a mile away in precinct 347300, Quan beat Schaff by four votes, 83 to 79. In precinct 362900, between Havenscourt and Millsmont, Parker won by just three votes, 63 to Kaplan’s 60. And in precinct 354300, intersected by East 21st Street and 23rd Avenue, Kaplan edged out Quan, 102 votes to 96.
Kaplan declined to comment on the election results through her spokesman, Jason Overman. Quan did not respond to repeated requests for comment, and Parker’s representative, Dan Bellino, said that Parker had not had time to look over the map before press time.
The second place finishers tended to vary across the map, as well. While Tuman took second in most of the hills areas that run through Districts 1 and 4, Siegel was more likely to come in second in North Oakland neighborhoods close to MacArthur BART and the Berkeley border. Kaplan and Quan did better as second-place finishers in the areas east of Lake Merritt and into the Fruitvale, and Parker came in second more frequently in East Oakland.
Parker won eight precincts, colored in teal blue on the map, all within East Oakland’s Districts 6 and 7. Parker’s campaign has claimed to have knocked on 50,000 doors since January of this year; their work in East Oakland might well account for his second-place standing in precinct 400900, to the south of Quan’s coral-colored territory in the flats, as well as his win in precinct 400600, close to Lake Chabot, where he edged out Schaaf by six votes. In many of these areas, turnout was so low that even tiny differences represented significant percentages of the turnout.
According to the registrar’s numbers and the October 20 registration report from the Secretary of State, Oakland’s turnout rate was 45 percent in this year’s election, accounting for both votes at polling stations and vote-by-mail ballots. Only 101,879 of the city’s 221,073 registered voters cast a vote. Comparing the numbers with the last non-presidential election in 2010, which had a turnout of 60.09 percent in Oakland, Registrar Tim Dupuis called this year’s numbers “low.” And in stark contrast, the 2012 presidential election brought 163,448 voters to the polls—a 76.4 percent turnout.
The United States Elections Project, a nonprofit organization devoted to transparency in government, puts turnout nationally at 36 percent for this year’s election and in California at 32 percent, dramatically lower than Oakland’s still-low numbers. But this number calculates turnout using “voting eligible population” instead of registered voters, a practice that Dupuis does not follow. Other estimates, using 2012 Census records, put national turnout closer to half of registered voters, making comparisons difficult to draw but supporting the national trend of low turnout.
Dupuis expressed confusion at the local drop in voter numbers, guessing that Governor Jerry Brown’s popularity might be a contributing factor keeping satisfied voters at home. But Dupuis said he feels it has never been easier to vote. “We obviously have a lot of different ways for people to vote these days,” Dupuis said. “They can mail it in or do vote-by-mail and drop it off at the polls. Or they can just walk in and vote. We let them vote provisionally.”
He noted that dropping mail-in ballots at the polls has become especially popular recently—well over half of Alameda County voters voted by mail or dropped their ballots at the polls this year. While Dupuis said he was happy that voting was becoming more flexible, he acknowledged that “it makes our job a little harder,” as his staff must work round-the-clock processing these votes after polls close in order to make the 28-day deadline for election certification and to placate an impatient media and a community waiting for answers.
Katherine Gavzy, President of the Oakland League of Women Voters (a nonpartisan organization that works for voter education) said she is “very concerned” about the election’s low turnout. “Is the presence of big money in elections creating voter cynicism?” she said. “That’s one answer we’re coming up with. That people are saying, ‘My vote doesn’t count.’”
But Gavzy said she was “very encouraged” by the results of the election in Richmond, where a slate of candidates sponsored by Chevron were voted down despite the corporation’s best campaign efforts and enormous financial support. “If the problem is that people are cynical and apathetic due to presence of all this money and constant advertising,” she said, “then what happened in the city of Richmond shows that if people are also informed, then they do bother to vote. … If you put daylight on money in politics, then the voters may end up making more informed decisions and feeling less manipulated.”
Some observers say low turnout gave more power to the areas that did vote, helping Schaaf over the proverbial hump in a tight race. “Who votes in low-turnout elections? The hills people do,” said Dan Lindheim, a former city administrator now teaching at the Goldman School of Public Policy at UC Berkeley.
Since Schaaf got twice as many votes as the second- and third-place candidates, her win could be considered a landslide, Lindheim said, but pointed out that it could viewed another way: that she won with less than 30 percent of the first-place votes. He pointed out that Ron Dellums received about 42,000 votes in his successful 2006 bid for mayor while second place finisher Ignacio De La Fuente received about 27,700 votes. This year, he noted, Schaaf received 30,000 first-choice votes, not many more than De La Fuente in 2006.
“To me, what happened in this election is that 85 percent of the population voted against Quan,” Lindheim said, referring to first-choice votes. “What was unclear in this election is that if you weren’t going to vote for Quan who would you vote for?” Governor Jerry Brown’s endorsement for Schaaf answered this question for many Oakland voters, he said.
Gary Yee, Oakland School Board Representative for District 4, has worked very closely with Quan for many years and personally supported her race for mayor. When asked why Schaaf did better than Quan in District 4, Yee said his district is more conservative than other areas and that successful District 4 councilmembers focus much of their work on Montclair. Yee said that some residents in his district who voted against Quan felt like she was serving other districts more than theirs. Mayors, however, have to “have a more global responsibility,” he said. He pointed out that, as mayor, Quan had “seven times the geographic and demographic responsibility that a city council person does.”
Though he said he’s disappointed to see to Quan leave, Yee said, “There couldn’t be a better person than Libby for the transition…She definitely understands the city as a whole.”
As for Schaaf, the mayor-elect says she is ready to reach out to people who live in the areas where she lagged behind her competitors. “I recognize that it is now my job to win them over,” Schaaf said in a phone interview.
She also said that the split between the flats and the hills was something that she encountered as a councilmember and that she has worked to try to bridge that gap. She mentioned the driving tours of various districts that she has recently requested from city council members as an example of her outreach across communities, as well as her endorsement by Oakland Rising, the East Oakland advocacy organization. “A mayor’s challenge is to represent the whole city. That is something that I’ll do with great passion and integrity,” she said.