The Alameda County Registrar of Voters' office in downtown Oakland. Credit: Darwin BondGraham

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There are two important elections this year, and the first is fast approaching. 

On June 7, Oakland voters will get to participate in the California primary election by helping pick candidates for statewide offices like governor and attorney general, as well as federal offices like United States senator and members of the House of Representatives.

June 7 primary election — full coverage

Read our coverage to find out who’s running, what measures are on the ballot, how the primary election works, how to register to vote, and more.

Just as important are the local races that will be on the ballot. Alameda County voters will be picking the next district attorney, sheriff, superintendent of schools, and a new member of the county Board of Supervisors to represent part of Oakland, among other things.

We’ve written about why these county offices matter for Oakland residents. For example, the superintendent of public instruction oversees the Oakland Unified School District, monitors its budget, and operates schools in the city. The district attorney has the power to set criminal justice policies, determining things like whether nonviolent defendants face prison or diversion programs, and the kinds of resources survivors of crime have access to. And members of the Board of Supervisors oversee a multi-billion dollar budget that funds essential needs like healthcare, housing, and homelessness assistance.

This guide is to help Oakland voters understand the June 7 primary and learn how to take part. We’ll update it based on your questions and suggestions, so please us know if have any.

And we’ll be publishing a different guide later this summer for the Nov. 8 election—the big one in which the winners of the primary will face off against each other and Oaklanders will get to pick the next mayor, councilmembers for districts 2, 4, and 6, and a city auditor, and choose among several ballot measures.

What’s the June 7 primary election all about?

A ballot box posted at the entrance to DeFremery Park in West Oakland, October 14, 2020. Photo: Pete Rosos

Primary elections are mostly used to whittle down the field of candidates before the general election later in the year. 

California has complicated and differing sets of rules for how these elections are run, depending on the particular office that’s up for grabs.

Elections for local “nonpartisan offices” begin as open primaries. This means pretty much anyone can run if they qualify. In the primary election, each voter gets to pick their favorite candidate and if one of the candidates receives over 50% of the vote, they’re declared the winner and that’s that. But if nobody wins more than half of the vote, then the top two candidates face off in a “runoff” election in the fall. If only one candidate qualifies for the primary election in the first place, then they don’t even appear on the June 7 ballot; they automatically win.

The local, nonpartisan offices on this year’s primary election ballot for most Oakland voters will include:

You can find all our coverage of these races here. There’s also a complete list of candidates on the registrar’s website.

Oaklanders will also get to vote on a proposed $114 parcel tax to fund libraries.

A bunch of local offices won’t appear on this year’s ballot because only one candidate qualified for the primary, including the District 1 County Board of Education seat and multiple Superior Court judge seats.

The other set of primary election rules is similar and covers candidates for “voter nominated offices” at the state and federal levels. The biggest difference between these races and those for local nonpartisan offices is that there’s always a general election runoff between the top two vote-getters from the primary, and races where only one candidate qualifies to run still appear on the ballot.

This open primary system applies to the following state constitutional voter-nominated offices:

  • Governor
  • Lieutenant Governor
  • Attorney General
  • Controller
  • Secretary of State
  • Treasurer
  • Insurance Commissioner
  • Member of the State Board of Equalization
  • State Senator
  • State Assemblymember

Two races for state Assembly on the June primary ballot are of particular importance to Oakland. Mia Bonta was elected last year to the 18th Assembly District (downtown Oakland, East Oakland) and is running for reelection, and incumbent Buffy Wicks is running for the 14th District (North Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond). Both are unopposed. (Note that Wicks currently represents the 15th District, but because the boundaries were recently redrawn by the state’s independent redistricting commission, she’s now running for what will become the 14th District.)

CalMatters has a handy guide to these statewide races, as well as the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. And here’s a comprehensive list of all the state constitutional offices that will be on the ballot, as well the federal positions.

One other thing to know about the June 7 primary election: this is the first election in which voters will pick representatives based on the new district maps that were created through the recent redistricting processes at the state and local levels. And when Oaklanders vote for City Council, mayor, and more this fall, we’ll also be using the city’s new map.

How to register to vote in the primary

You must be registered to vote. To register, you have to be age 18 or older, a resident of California, and not currently serving a prison sentence for a felony.

The easiest way to register is on the Secretary of State’s website. You’ll need a driver’s license or state ID card, your date of birth, and your Social Security Number. You can also register in person at the Alameda County Registrar of Voters office in the basement of the Rene C. Davidson Courthouse, 1225 Fallon Street, Room G1, in downtown Oakland.

The deadline to register is always 15 days before an election. That’s May 23 for the June 7 primary. If you miss that deadline, you can also register on the same day you vote if you go to an in-person voting center.

How does voting work?

Ballot drop boxes will be located across Oakland and Alameda County.

The Alameda County Registrar of Voters will mail ballots to every registered voter starting May 9. Once you get your ballot, you can vote by filling it out and doing one of the following:

  • Mail it back to the registrar using its pre-paid postage. It must be postmarked on or before election day and received no later than June 14 to count
  • Deposit it in a secure ballot dropbox. Here’s a map of all the dropboxes in Alameda County
  • Handing your mail-in ballot over to election poll workers at a voting center

Voting centers are the way to vote in person, if you’d rather do that. Alameda County is one of 24 Voters Choice Act counties in the state. These are counties that have made it much easier to vote by not only mailing everyone a ballot, but also by opening up in-person voting centers starting May 28 until election day. 

So far, 26 voting centers have been identified in Oakland, and more will be added, according to the registrar’s office.

If you’re waiting to receive your ballot in the mail, or want to know when it’s received by the registrar, you can track it using this website.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham worked with The Appeal, where he was an investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian, and was an enterprise reporter for the East Bay Express. BondGraham's work has also appeared with KQED, ProPublica and other leading national and local outlets. 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.