Credit: Mike Nicholls

It’s not hyperbole to say that this year’s election—the first our new newsroom is around to cover—is the most important in generations. Crises like climate change, police brutality, reproductive rights, voter rights, and the pandemic are the backdrop against which voters will choose a president this year.

As high as the stakes are in the national election, local races and ballot measures will also have a powerful impact on Oaklanders’ lives depending on the outcomes. When our newsroom launched this summer, we knew the 2020 local elections would be one of our core areas of focus. We want to provide our city with resources for voting and civic participation, as well as deeply-reported stories about the people running for office and the issues on the ballot.

For our elections coverage, we decided to adopt an editorial approach similar to the “citizens agenda” that a small handful of local news outlets have used successfully for several decades. Under this model, we began by asking Oakland residents across the city about what’s working, and what’s not, in their neighborhoods and school districts. 

To ensure that we were hearing from people who reflected Oakland’s diversity, our reporters then reached out directly to more people in Oakland voting districts 1, 3, 5, and 7 (the districts electing councilmembers and school board members this year), and asked them to tell us more about their district’s successes and needs.

The Oaklandside is here to help you vote

Nuts and bolts: How, when, where to register and vote, and what you’ll be voting for

District coverage: D1 | D3 | D5 | D7

Oakland ballot measures: Y (school bond), RR (higher dumping and blight fines), QQ (youth school board vote), S1 (stronger Police Commission)

All about: Voting in person | Voting by mail | Using ballot drop boxes

The Oaklandside doesn’t make endorsements, but we’ve compiled local voter guides for you.

Read all of our elections coverage.

Based on what they heard, our reporters wrote articles sharing what residents have to say about each of the four districts voting in 2020. They delved deep into questions like what to do with the Coliseum in District 7 and how to make District 5’s streets safer for pedestrians and bicyclists. They explored the impacts of gentrification in District 1 and how to protect low-income renters and homeowners in District 3. We also heard from families and teachers about big education issues when it comes to Oakland’s schools—stabilizing finances, school closures, and the relationships between charter and non-charter schools.

While we were gathering this input from Oaklanders, we drafted questionnaires for City Council and the school board candidates. Nearly every candidate running for school board or City Council filled out our questionnaires, giving insight into how they view Oakland’s biggest challenges, including homelessness and the affordable housing crises. (You can read the candidates answers to these questions in the stories linked below.)

After most of the candidates filled out our questionnaires, we interviewed all of them.

Our education reporter, Ashley McBride, spoke with all 17 people running for school board in districts 1, 3, 5, and 7. Our reporters Natalie Orenstein, Azucena Rasilla, Ricky Rodas and myself interviewed all 18 people running for City Council in districts 1, 3, 5, 7, and the citywide at-large seat. As we did for the school board, we wrote stories about each City Council race to feature the candidates and contrast their backgrounds and experiences.

We also made sure to provide Oaklanders with resources to better help them vote. We created a “how to vote in Oakland” guide to help residents navigate everything from voter registration to where they can find ballot drop boxes and voting centers. A reader asked us to provide job descriptions for local elected positions, and we produced a story explaining what school board members actually do. And because Oaklanders told us they’re concerned about recent service cutbacks to the United States Postal Service, we examined if there could be problems with voting by mail in our city.

To put local elections in historic context, we interviewed some of the activists and politicians who campaigned in the 1970s to transform Oakland’s electoral system and make it fairer and better represent lower-income neighborhoods and Oaklanders of color.

And to fulfill our public-service role as an accountability watchdog, we’ve investigated the role of money in local elections, including a story about an investigation of alleged campaign money laundering by a major city contractor, the role that campaign finance is playing in the District 1 race, and we fact-checked a candidate’s statements about his record as a business owner.

One thing we’re not doing is endorsing anyone. We’re a nonprofit news organization; that means we can’t take a position on any candidate or measure. If you’re looking for something like that, our guide to voting in Oakland this year includes a list of voting recommendations from various local civic organizations and others.

We’re still not done with our elections coverage. Next week, we plan on sharing short informational videos, produced in collaboration with Oakland Voices, another community journalism platform, about some of the ballot measures Oakland residents will vote on this year. And we have additional articles and posts about campaign finance, candidates, and voting resources in the works.

If you have more ideas about how The Oaklandside can serve Oaklanders preparing to vote, we’d love to hear from you. And if you’d like to support this sort of in-depth, from-the-ground-up reporting in Oakland, we hope you’ll consider becoming an Oaklandside member.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.