When I arrived in the East Bay in early July from New York City to press on with our brother Dirk’s legacy, this month’s mayoral and school board elections were squarely top of mind for many who care about children and their futures.
In fact, Oakland’s youth was excited, because thanks to Measure QQ – a ballot measure passed with 67% of the vote in the 2020 election – 16 and 17 year old Oaklanders could vote in OUSD School Board elections for the first time.
When I met Harper Valentine, a rising senior and District 5 Oakland Youth Commissioner, for coffee over the summer, she talked about how she wanted to create resources before the first day of school and share them here on Great School Voices. For students, she planned to create a “How To Register to Vote” guide replete with information on all of the candidates. For schools, she also had designs on researching and developing a guide on how best to register students en masse in preparation for this November’s vote. From there, we had talked about possibly holding a student-led forum where newly-registered 17 and 18 year old Oaklanders could ask both school board and mayoral candidates about issues that matter to high schoolers.
And then, Harper could’t find any resources on how to register, finding only a June 2022 Board Cover Memo promising that student voter registration was to happen in September and also in April, 2023, six months after the damn election. She tried to register to vote on her own by the October 24th deadline, and found that the state website only offered its standard pre-registration option for people under 18. Then, on August 3rd, the news dropped: the Alameda County Registrar’s office won’t be able to implement the changes needed for this year’s election.
The reasons? From Harper’s investigation, there were two. First, the Office couldn’t identify an alternate means of verifying signatures from 16 year old students, as many would not have driver’s licenses. The other? The Office hadn’t created separate ballots or updated the voting system to incorporate our youth.
Those were the bottlenecks. Those two.
Needless to say, the Registrar’s Office failed its high school students beyond reproach. It quite literally disenfranchised them all.
In a post she had planned to release in late July before this news broke, Harper wrote:
Getting young people to vote is a difficult undertaking. Historically, young people are one of the lowest voting demographics, and it is proven that if they start patterns of civic engagement early, they will be more likely to vote and engage in politics and social issues as they get older. This is one of the key reasons Measure QQ passed: to jump start patterns of civic engagement in young people. But this requires follow-through and the creation of an easy way for young people to vote, or else they might not even try. If it stays as difficult and confusing as it is to register to vote right now, young people will not want to do it, and the goal of Measure QQ will not be accomplished.
There’s unacceptably nothing we can do to change the circumstance, but far be it for us to not let our students’ voices be heard. As our way of honoring the work of those students and coalitions who worked tirelessly to get Measure QQ approved by voters, we spent October interviewing our Mayoral and School Board Director candidates, using the questions and issues Harper collected from students across Oakland. We reached out to every candidate on the ballot and asked each of them the same questions about these top five issues: school closures; truancy; dumping the D; safe schools; and implementing Measure QQ. None received the topics or questions beforehand, and over this week, they will give you their raw, candid answers without any preparation.
The following candidates made time for us, and if you have yet to rank and mail your ballot (up to 5 candidates this year), we hope you consider the additional perspectives they lend here. We promise that they’ll be great reads, especially for our student readers, as every candidate provides you with ways to civically engage not just with them, but also for the betterment of The Town.
School Board Director District 2
School Board Director District 4
School Board Director District 6
Remember, November 8th is your LAST day to vote, and not your first!
As a matter of transparency, we reached out to every candidate on the ballot for Oakland Mayor and OUSD Board. Candidates without interviews either did not respond to our multiple requests or declined. As an anti-racist organization dedicated to educational equity, we offered and then rescinded an interview with Peter Liu after being added to an email chain promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Black content.