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On Tuesday, plenty of voters are likely to do what they’ve done in previous elections: walk, bike, or drive to one of Oakland’s usual neighborhood polling places and cast a ballot. In a normal general election, Oakland has well over 100 different polling places. But this year isn’t like previous years. Ann Daniels realized that recently when she visited the county’s elections website and saw that there are just 100 voting centers in the entire county this time around, and just 26 of these are in Oakland.
Daniels, a Rockridge resident, had already decided to vote using a ballot drop box, but she worried that if other voters waited until Election Day, they might head to their usual neighborhood polling place, find it closed, and get frustrated enough to simply give up and go home.
She called several friends who are members of the group Indivisible East Bay, a chapter of the grassroots national political organization, to see what they knew about efforts to inform Alameda County voters of the changes. The Alameda County Registrar’s office informed them there were no plans to put up signs at this year’s shuttered polling places.
In a previous conversation with The Oaklandside, Alameda County Registrar Tim Dupuis said that, besides encouraging people to vote by mail, his office has provided information about the new in-person voting centers through social media posts, a voting guide mailed to every resident, and talking to the media. But even with the rise in political awareness this year, it’s likely that many people haven’t gotten the message.
“Nobody I have talked to was aware of it,” said Daniels. “Some people were aware that their local polling places would be closed, but nobody was aware that there would be no signage.”
Daniels and her friend Nora Cody, another long-time North Oakland resident, decided to put their own posters on roughly 180 polling places used in recent elections, but closed this year, to make sure anyone who shows up there on Election Day has the information they need to make it to one of the new voting centers.
First, they checked with the registrar’s office about whether they were allowed to do this. Election officials, Daniels says, told them that they couldn’t officially say yes, but that it wasn’t against the law.
They created a poster that would fit onto two 8×11 sheets and offer as much useful information as possible. The final version, designed by Cody’s friend Sarah Altshuler, includes a clear statement in bold red letters saying that the polling place is closed. It also displays a map of Oakland’s 26 new voting centers, and the dates and times they’re open.
Cody emailed dozens of friends and posted a call for volunteers on Facebook to help put up signs at the closed sites, and more than 20 people signed up. Cody then went to a local print store, had 180 posters printed, and split the batch between three volunteers’ homes so her crew could pick them up outside. They recommended volunteers put the posters up before 7:00 a.m. on Tuesday, November 3.
Frances Reid is one of the volunteers. “I’ll put up a few in Montclair where I used to live, where I grew up,” she said. “In fact, I’m putting one on the church where I used to go to where I got married years and years ago. I’ve got deep roots here, and I’ve done a lot of door knocking for political campaigns. So I’m very familiar with the neighborhoods.”
Reid added that helping out has alleviated some of her fear and anxiety over voter suppression nationwide.
Cody’s daughter, Naomi Zingman-Daniels, said she and her friends feel like this is something the county should have done. “This information should have been posted everywhere. It should have been very aggressively posted,” she said.
Zingman-Daniels called on a designer friend to make a digital version of the poster to distribute on social media.
“We just really wanted to make sure that everyone is having their voice heard,” Zingman-Daniels told The Oaklandside. “The main takeaway is that people are so motivated about this election that the rapidity of the response and people’s willingness to sign-up was really inspiring.”