District 7 Sees Low Voter Turnout in Council Race

Photo: Voters cast their ballots in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. Turnout in District 7 was markedly lower than that of other districts.
Michael Restrepo/Staff
Voters cast their ballots in the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. Turnout in District 7 was markedly lower than that of other districts.

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Although voters crowded the polling station at the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union for hours during Tuesday's election, initial numbers show a low voter turnout in Berkeley City Council District 7 compared to other districts with seats up for election.

About 2,650 ballots were cast in District 7, which includes much of the campus area and Southside, according to the Alameda County Registrar of Voters website on Thursday, contrasting sharply with numbers from Districts 1, 4 and 8. In District 1, around 2,650 votes were cast for Councilmember Linda Maio alone.

"I wasn't the one doing poll checking (at the student union), but I did go down a couple times and people were sitting all over the floor, on all the couches - overflowing everywhere," said ASUC Vote Coalition Director Jeremy Pilaar. "There were not enough spots for booths during the peak hours."

He said the coalition registered 5,076 voters for this election - about half of the approximately 10,000 voters registered by the coalition in 2008.

The coalition was met with a rush of students trying to register to vote in the weeks preceding the election, according to CALPIRG New Voters Project Co-Coordinator Megan Landeros, who said efforts were also made to reach out to as many potential voters as possible.

"I think we're pretty pleased with our efforts that we put in," she said. "We called almost 2,000 people to come out and vote, and I don't think we could say anything else."

Lucas Zucker, CALPIRG state board executive chair, expects Berkeley - and the state in general - to have a relatively higher level of youth voter turnout than other places in the country.

"The last few days, people were flocking to the (registration tables)," Zucker said. "I think the expectation of youth turnout being low is pretty overblown."

District 7's low turnout may be explained by a potentially substantial number of absentee ballots dropped off directly at polling centers on Election Day, according to District 7 City Council candidate George Beier.

Beier, who lost the first round of ranked-choice voting Tuesday to incumbent Councilmember Kriss Worthington, said he had expected the district to see about 1,000 more ballots than the number recorded on Election Day.

"I talked to an election monitor, and he said about 100 votes were cast as drop-ins - and that's a lot - so if it's that many in every precinct, that's 1,000 votes right there," he said.

According to Beier, while the polling centers in District 7 seemed to have relatively normal levels of turnout on election night, many individuals were standing in line with absentee ballots. He added that the polling location at the student union was much slower during his visit at around 7 p.m. and 8 p.m. Tuesday.

As of Thursday, the registrar's website states 198,094 of 365,624 mailed absentee ballots were received and that Alameda County overall had a 44.96 percent voter turnout.

Even though Mayor Tom Bates said he believes Berkeley will show a higher turnout than state levels, he admitted this election may have seen a lower turnout in the city than in past years.

"There was no passion in the campaigns," he said. "In most elections, you wanna get somebody in or out ... there was nobody (voters) would go to the wall for."


Contact J.D. Morris at [email protected]

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