Voter turnout in Alameda County beats the national rate, as groups push local measures
on November 16, 2016
This November, 63 percent of Alameda County’s registered voters cast a ballot, or 562,205 people. That’s higher than the national average—as of Tuesday, 58 percent of all eligible voters in the U.S. weighed in on this year’s presidential election, according to the United States Election Project.
But those numbers are expected to rise as registrars across the nation continue to count ballots. Tim Dupuis, Alameda County’s registrar, said another 87,000 local votes still need to be counted, most of them late entries that were postmarked on election day. He expects the turnout total to reach at least 72 percent when all ballots are counted.
While no Oakland races are close enough for these votes to make a difference in their outcomes, the results of the Fremont mayoral race and a Berkeley city council seat will hang in the balance until final votes are tallied.
“These two races have been calling me,” Dupuis said.
On election day, more than twice as many voters—380,114 compared to 182,091—used their vote-by-mail ballot than those who went to the polls in person. Considering the 2008 elections had “Disneyland-style lines,” the surge in mail-in ballots helped ease polling place congestion, Dupuis said. “It’s pretty shocking,” he said. “It’s easy to see what people prefer.”
Still, voter turnout is slightly lower in Alameda County than the last two presidential elections.
In 2008, when Barack Obama first ran for president, 78 percent of registered Alameda County voters cast a vote. In 2012, it was 74 percent.
Republicans followed a similar pattern. In 2008, 19 percent of registered voters cast a ballot for a Republican candidate. In 2012, it was nearly 18 percent. In 2016, it was less than 15 percent.
Compared with the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections, this year fewer voters supported the Republican presidential candidate, but there were more votes for Libertarian, Green, and write-in candidates. This year, 2.6 percent of local voters supported Green Party candidate Jill Stein, compared to 1.3 in 2012. Meanwhile, about 2.5 percent supported Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson, compared to 0.9 in 2012.
Of Alameda County’s 889,860 registered voters, 57 percent were registered as Democrats as of July, while 12 percent registered Republican, and 26 percent stated no party affiliation, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters.
Only 64 percent of those with permanent vote-by-mail status returned their ballots, with return rates mirroring those of party affiliations. In other words, no party had significantly a larger turnout, according to the latest registrar totals.
From 2008 to 2016, three-quarters of Alameda County voters were faithful to a Democratic presidential candidate, whether Barack Obama or Hilary Clinton. And since Bay Area voters typically swing in favor of Democratic presidential candidates, local efforts to get people out to the polls focused on issues specific to Oakland’s ballot.
In predominantly Latino neighborhoods like Fruitvale, the Latino Task Force worked not just to get people registered to vote, but to educate them about ballot measures. Mariano Contreras, a member of the task force, said merely signing people up to vote is only the first step. “The voter education was important so people knew the process,” he said.
Helping voters understand the issues on the ballot was an important aspect for the Alameda County Food Bank’s voter engagement campaign. The food bank began including voter registration opportunities during soup kitchen and food distribution times beginning in 2012.
Shanti Prasad, senior policy advocate at the food bank, said research shows people are more responsive to voter registration efforts when they’re lead by a familiar face, such as pastors at local churches, so this year they partnered with other community organizations to encourage people to vote.
Often, she said, the hurdle is getting people to feel familiar with the voting process as well as issues on the ballot. “It’s confusing for everyone. We’re all in this together,” Prasad said.
The Latino Task Force voter registration and education campaign supported the re-election of Roseann Torres and Noel Gallo for the District 5 school board and council seats, the approval of the city’s new soda tax, and Measure LL, which created a citizen advisory committee for the Oakland Police Department. “With those campaigns, we made sure they went out to vote,” Contreras said. “We were pretty successful.”
Gonzalez said the voters the Latino Task Force canvassed in the Oakland flatlands were supportive of Measure LL and soda tax Measure HH, both of which passed.
Particularly, he said, the Latino electorate is growing and they can “read through big money lies that saturated our community.”
“We’re not going to let outside interests and money tell us how to vote,” he said.
Gonzalez was referring to the millions of dollars soda makers poured into Measure HH, the one-cent-per-ounce tax on sugar-sweetened beverages, calling it a “grocery tax” that would have hurt small businesses. Diseases caused by excess consumption of sugar, specifically obesity and type 2 diabetes, are more prevalent in communities of color, who also see more advertisements for sodas and other sugary drinks than their white counterparts.
The Alameda County Food Bank endorsed the passage of Measure HH, as staffers say the adverse effects of soda directly effect vulnerable children, whom they serve. The food bank stopped accepting donations of soda in 2005. “We’re particularly proud that HH passed,” Prasad said.
While many in the Bay Area are less than enthusiastic with the outcome of the general election—which has led to consecutive nights of protest downtown—the results of city-wide races and measures illustrate one important fact, Gonzalez said: “The most important vote is the local vote.”
He said Trump’s presidency and the rhetoric of his campaign may spur new political interest among minorities, women, and Muslims in the otherwise often-neglected midterm elections, which will take place in two years. For right now, he said, there’s plenty for voters to talk to their children about, including the things the president-elect has said along his campaign trail.
“When they hear us as adults and hear someone who is going to be the leader of the country speak that way, they get mixed, mixed messages,” Gonzalez said.
Data source for the graphics: Alameda County Registrar of Voters ‘Report of Registration’ files for 2016, 2012 and 2008. Based on July 7, 2016, October 22, 2012, and October 20, 2008 registration close date.
Oakland North is an online news service produced by students at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism and covering Oakland, California. Our goals are to improve local coverage, innovate with digital media, and listen to you–about the issues that concern you and the reporting you’d like to see in your community. Please send news tips to: email@example.com.