Oakland turns out on Election Day 2016 to choose a new president

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Oakland voters hit the polls today to cast votes for, among other things, a new president, city council members, school board seats, a potential soda tax, and a citizens’ commission to oversee the Oakland Police Department.

Many voters exiting Oakland polling stations said they had voted for Hillary Clinton; not surprising considering more than 57 percent of registered Oakland voters are registered as Democrats. More than a quarter have not declared a party affiliation, according to data collected by the California Secretary of State.

“First Black president and then a woman president right behind would be nice,” said Oakland voter Denice Babbitt at the polls at Sojourner Truth Housing in North Oakland.

Gerald Williams, an Oakland landlord, said he wishes he could put outgoing President Barack Obama “on a month-to-month plan until we find a qualified candidate.”

“I do have hope in thinking this could be Bill Clinton’s third term,” Williams said. “I’m also hopeful that Michelle Obama plans to run after Hillary and we have Obama’s third term.”

Fruitvale Elementary School crossing guard Booker Rhymes used his stop sign to guide children across the street as school let out Tuesday afternoon. When asked if he voted, he proudly said, “Oh yeah, I went first thing this morning.”

Although many people are disengaged in this election, it’s still important for him to vote, he said. “My great grandparents, some of them were lynched and killed so that I could have that right to vote,” Rhymes said. “I’m not going to give up something my great grandparents fought for me to have.”

Jason Carter, a veteran and Trump supporter, cast a vote for Trump at Lincoln Elementary School in Chinatown. He was wearing a black shirt with a skull and crossed guns with white text that read: “Don’t fear me for who I am, fear me for what I am capable of.”

As a Trump supporter in Oakland, he said, “I feel outnumbered. I feel that everything’s pushed on me, and I don’t get that right to support my candidate.” Asked why he was voting for Trump, Carter said, “It’s pretty simple. If you watch the way politicians—Republican or Democrat—have been for a long time, running hand-in-hand, it’s tearing our very fiber apart, our Constitution, our amendments, our freedoms.”

In addition to electing a new commander-in-chief, Carter said Election Day was the day “we say, it’s us or them.”

In June, 62 percent of registered Alameda County Republicans chose Donald Trump as their chosen candidate.

At the Clinton campaign’s Oakland headquarters, a two-story white stucco building on Grand Avenue sandwiched between trendy brick restaurant Camino and Grace’s Hair Salon, four female volunteers sat out front signing in other volunteers.

“I’ve been an activist for reproductive rights for years, and the thought of having to fight that battle all over again makes me sick to my stomach,” said volunteer Gail Kaufman, 71. “If Trump becomes president, we would be back in Neanderthal times.”

Suzanne Meyer and Julie Absey both admitted to feeling the strain of campaigning every day since the headquarters’ opening last week. “We’re excited and we’re tired,” Meyer said. “But we’re glad to be together and we’ve built a lot of camaraderie here. There is a lot of positive energy.”

As the media and voters alike have highlighted throughout the campaign, many voters felt a sense of frustration over the two mainstream party candidates. According to RealClearPolitics.com, which aggregates other national polls, as of Election Day, Green Party candidate Dr. Jill Stein and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson were polling at 1.9 and 4.5 percent, respectively. The same polls had Clinton at 45.5 percent of the vote and Trump at 42.2 percent.

On Tuesday morning, a banner across the 580 freeway overpass at the University Avenue in Berkeley urged voters to write in U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Virginia), Clinton’s main adversary in the June primary, whom she defeated with 2,842 delegates compared to Sanders’ 1,865.

Although Sanders has publicly urged his supporters to vote for Clinton, Sanders maintains a support base in the Bay Area. According to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters, county voters narrowly chose Clinton over Sanders in the primaries, with Clinton winning 51 percent of registered Democrats who voted, compared to 47 percent for Sanders.

Some voters felt not only support for their candidate, but openly showed disgust for the other. Clinton volunteer Barbara Hoffer, 67, said she just wants to “fire Trump.”

“I am here because this election is critical for our future, for our kids, for who we are as a nation, and for girls and women all over the world to step up and for who we are,” she said. “Stand up, speak up.”

Kathryn Lucas, an Oakland resident who voted at the Temescal Library, was near tears as she spoke about why she hopes Clinton wins. Lucas said although Clinton has made some mistakes in the past, she said she respects that the candidate has owned up to them. “She’s learning along the way as we all do” she said. When asked specifically what she thinks Clinton has learned from, she said, “The emails. Many things that we do, in hindsight, we would do them differently. She has admitted that and said she would do it differently.”

Race has played an important part of this year’s election cycle and the two major presidential candidates have polarized their followers. Some Oaklanders expressed concerns over Trump’s comments about certain minority groups, particularly Latinos.

Leo Tungohan, a 67-year-old Oakland resident, said when a presidential candidate threatens to deport Mexican immigrants, all minority groups could be in danger, including his own Filipino family and friends. Other than the presidential race, he said Measure HH—also known as the “soda tax”—is one of the most important ballot measures.

“I think the money coming out of that [measure] will be spent on people’s awareness of the bad effects of drinking sugary drinks,’ he said, adding that he used to drink soda every day and, “after all these years, I think it contributed to my stroke.”

Measure HH is a one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, such as soda, sports drinks, and energy drinks. The tax would be paid by distributors of those beverages and deposited into the city’s general fund. HH is the most expensive measure on Oakland’s ballot, with campaigners on both sides raising a total of more than $18 million. It needs a simple majority to pass.

Outside Specialty Foods Inc, in Chinatown, Yes on HH volunteers were set up near the polling station. Lynn Elliott-Harding, 65, is a nurse who works with addiction treatment, said she is passionate about Measure HH because she has seen many patients whose first addiction was to sugar. “This isn’t like a controversial, weird thing. This will save lives. This is about children’s health,” she said.

Robin Dean, who holds a masters degree in public health from UC Berkeley, wrote a paper in 2006 suggesting that California introduce a statewide soda tax. Since then, she’s been involved in soda tax initiatives in San Francisco, Berkeley, and now Oakland.

“This is one of the most powerful public health interventions that you can do, it’s a tool in our toolbox,” she said, speaking outside Specialty Foods, Inc on Tuesday. “It sends a public health message to the community that sugary drinks are harmful to your health. It is shown to decrease soda consumption, and it raises money for prevention programs.”

“If we win, it’s going to be such a difference for Oakland. It’s going to move across the country,” Dean added. “There’s no stopping this.”

Others, however, aren’t sold on HH, even if they’re not sold on soda. Standing outside of the Niebyl-Proctor Library on 65th Street and Telegraph, waiting for his wife to finish voting, Jim Forte said he’s been advocating against drinking soda for a decade. Despite that, he voted against Measure HH because he does not want the money to go into the city’s general fund.

“The money does not always go where the voters believe it’s going,” said Forte. “I don’t trust the ballot initiatives because I believe they’re written by parties that have certain interests. They’re marketed in one way, but disingenuous in how they’re implemented.”

Forte said he’s become disillusioned with the ballot process and wishes that government officials were more transparent about how the money will be spent.

Election Day has also been a culmination for groups like Oakland Rising, a voter advocacy organization that has been working for the last month on energizing residents in the flatlands to vote on decisions affecting them directly, especially on Proposition 56 (increasing the cigarette tax by $2.00 per pack), Proposition 57 (increasing parole and good behavior opportunities for felons convicted of nonviolent crimes) and local ballot Measure JJ, which provides better protections for renters against evictions and rent increases.

“We want to make sure we are investing in education rather than prison. It is also very important for us to get more affordable housing so the working class community can continue to stay and thrive in Oakland,” Aparna Shah, executive director of Mobilize the Immigrant Vote, a partner of Oakland Rising, said, adding she thinks early voting has shown the potential political power in communities of color.

At Oakland City Hall this afternoon, Mayor Libby Schaaf said, “obviously, this is a huge election for the city of Oakland.”

“It has become a necessity for us to ask the voters of Oakland to pay for teacher salaries, making BART run well again and to address some of the critical issues here in Oakland,” she continued, referring to several city and county measures asking for voters to approve bonds to fund public services.

“Having a woman elected would be tremendous for the city of Oakland,” said Schaaf, referring to Clinton’s bid for the presidency. “President Obama’s administration has worked so well with us and other major cities and we hope the next president will continue to do so.”

When it comes to being a woman in charge, Schaaf said, people are still surprised, even in 2016. She said she was speaking with a woman early Tuesday, who upon learning about Schaaf’s job title said, “You’re the mayor!?” Schaaf said that she replied, “Hopefully you will be seeing a lot more women starting tonight.”

Mirella Rangel was downtown for last-minute campaigning for Oakland school board candidate Jumoke Hinton-Hodge, who is running for re-election in District 3. “The presidency is important but so is the school board race,” Rangel said. “School board has a huge impact on the lives of all of our families, even if you don’t have kids.”

Early voters encountered little to no wait at polling places across Oakland on an unseasonably warm early November morning, while some polling places experienced technical difficulties.

At the AC Transit headquarters at 15th and Franklin Streets in downtown Oakland, approximately 350 voters had come through by 2 p.m., a steady stream that started with a rush before 9 a.m. before voters went to work. Voters there reported receiving a “defective ballot” message on their ballot scanner that started with the first ballot at 7 a.m. Poll workers put those ballots into a sealed ballot trolley before receiving a new scanner around 11:30 a.m., which was also faulty. The polling station received a new scanner at 2:45, but poll workers will still have to count ballots received before that by hand.

Other polling places experienced similar technical difficulties, such as the Piedmont Gardens Senior Center, north of Lake Merritt. Their machine broke about 20 minutes into their day. At Piedmont Gardens, some residents need help due to physical or age-related limitations.

Rika Votichenko, a poll worker, said that throughout the day “seniors have been good on their own voting.” “Some have physical problems to get to the poll or to write and see, “but overall things have gone well, she said. The mood of the day had been pleasant, Votichenko said, since people are excited to vote and “everything is finally coming to an end.”

At Studio One Art Center in Temescal, voters filled almost all of the booths, but there was no line. Most voters filled out the paper ballot, but others, like Nathan Chin, dropped off absentee ballots. He is registered in New York, but said he wanted to make sure his vote is counted. “I like the idea of having a say,” Chin said.”it’s important to believe in our democracy and have faith in our government.”

At the Dimond Library in Fruitvale, voters saw no line. Veronica Chesley, a voter and volunteer, was putting up polling place signs and answering voters’ questions. She said it was important to vote this year because the United States could see its first female president. “My ancestors fought and died for the right to vote,” she said. “It’s a historical election.”

At Laurel Elementary School in Redwood Heights, cars lined both sides of the street, but voters were able to vote quickly since there was no line. By early afternoon, the school already had a couple thousand people vote.

Talia Romano was one of those voters. She said she votes because “it’s a responsibility and obligation.” Romano is most worried about the national election, rather than the local one. “The main thing to me is the presidency, to make sure Trump doesn’t get elected,” she said.

The most expensive measure on the local ballot is Measure HH, with $19.9 million raised as of Monday. The measure is a proposed one-cent-per-ounce tax on most sugar-sweetened beverages that would be paid by distributors of those taxes. It mimics a similar measure passed by Berkeley voters in 2014. While Berkeley’s passed with more than two-thirds of the vote, Oakland’s measure requires a simple majority to pass.

On Tuesday, the Yes on HH campaign had staff canvassing the Fruitvale neighborhood, including the BART station, to encourage people to vote for the tax. Their campaign received major funding from former New York City mayor and media billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who has backed campaigns in other cities where beverage makers have spent millions to defeat similar measures.

Joseph Ferrera, who has been campaigning for HH since 7 a.m., said of the hundred of people he has seen, the majority have said they favor the tax, with only a few saying they are voting against HH.

Councilmember Dan Kalb, who represents Oakland’s District 1, spent his morning at the MacArthur BART station with signs for his campaign, encouraging passersby to vote yes on Measure LL. Kalb and Councilmember Noel Gallo (District 5) proposed the measure that, if approved by voters, will create a new police commission of seven civilian commissioners who will oversee the department. Volunteers for Kalb’s campaign will be calling non-absentee voters all day to urge them to vote Kalb for District 1 and yes on Measure LL.

Karen Ivy, a volunteer at the League of Women Voters of Oakland, a non-partisan organization that encourages people to participate to participate in their government, said members of the group were spending the day answering voters’ questions about local ballot measures by phone.

“We are telling everyone to vote. I voted this morning; I have on my sticker!” she said.

Last updated at 7 p.m., Nov. 8. Look for continuing coverage from Oakland North later this evening. 

Text by Brian Krans. Photo slideshow assembled by Khaled Sayed. Reporting by Rachel Loyd, Cameron Clark, Katie Parish, Ryan Lindsay, Rosa Furneaux, Mary Newman, Yesica Prado, Sofia Melo, Akira Olivia Kumamoto and Katherine Rose. Photography by Rosa Furneaux, Margaret Katcher and Andy Beale.

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