Street signs at an intersection along the 3400 block of International Boulevard
District 5, which includes Fruitvale, has been without a representative on the Oakland school board since March. Credit: Amir Aziz

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 12 p.m. on Aug. 18 with a statement from candidate Jorge Lerma.

The two—and only—candidates running for Oakland’s empty District 5 school board seat have been told that they no longer qualify, due to an error by the city regarding district boundaries, the Alameda County registrar said Thursday.

The mistake, first reported by the East Bay Times, stems from confusion over the city’s new district boundaries. Because the eventual winner of the special election in District 5 will be serving out the remainder of former D5 Director Mike Hutchinson’s term that began in 2020, both the candidates and the residents they are required to collect signatures from to qualify for the ballot must live within the old District 5 boundaries, not the new boundaries that were approved last year. 

But that was not the direction that the two candidates, Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez and Jorge Lerma, were given by Oakland’s city clerk, according to reports. Instead, they were allegedly instructed to collect signatures from within Oakland’s new district boundaries. As a result, neither candidate collected the required number of signatures, making them ineligible to compete in the election.

“We have reviewed the candidates for eligibility under the old boundaries. Both candidates’ addresses fall within the old boundaries, but they did not gather enough qualified signatures within the old boundaries. So, under the old boundaries, no candidates have qualified,” Alameda County registrar Tim Dupuis confirmed to The Oaklandside in an emailed statement. 

The registrar’s office is now waiting for direction from the city of Oakland to move forward since the filing deadline was last Friday, Aug. 11, and there are now technically no candidates who’ve qualified for the special election on Nov. 7.

The Oaklandside reached out to city clerk Asha Reed on Thursday for comment, who directed the request to a city spokesperson. City spokesperson Jean Walsh said city staff were focused on researching the issues and expected to have an analysis completed “by the end of the day.”

Ritzie-Hernandez, an organizer and education advocate, expressed shock and disappointment Thursday about the news. 

“We are deeply disappointed that Oakland is once again suffering from an election error that leaves our parents, teachers, and students in limbo about the future of OUSD,” Ritzie-Hernandez said in a statement on Thursday afternoon. “We plan to take all necessary action to protect democracy and ensure that the people’s voice is heard. We have already met with an attorney and have full confidence that we will be on the ballot.”

Lerma, an education activist and former educator, said the mishap brings a significant economic cost to his “mom-and-pop” campaign and that the city should allow the candidates to proceed.

“Potential donors are holding back, fearing that I and my opponent have been thrown out of the campaign. I believe City Hall should swallow their own medicine and proceed with the new boundary,” Lerma said in a statement Thursday night. “Why should we pay for their mistakes? We have lost momentum, possible contributors, and a measure of credibility.”

It’s the latest election error to impact the Oakland school board. Board President and District 4 Director Hutchinson was first elected in 2020 to represent District 5, but after the redistricting process, his address ended up in District 4. Last year Hutchinson ran for the District 4 seat and won, but he wasn’t sworn in until March because the Alameda County registrar’s office made a vote-counting error and wrongly declared another candidate, Nick Resnick, the winner. Hutchinson was declared the winner by an Alameda County Superior Court judge in March. 

Last year, the city clerk’s office also erroneously told mayoral candidates the incorrect filing deadline, causing some candidates to think they’d been disqualified from the ballot.

Whoever wins the District 5 seat could break the stalemates that have been common over the past several months. Because the board has been voting with only six members, many key votes on issues of charter schools, staff layoffs, and the budget have ended in ties. 

Ashley McBride writes about education equity for The Oaklandside. Her work covers Oakland’s public district and charter schools. Before joining The Oaklandside in 2020, Ashley was a reporter for the San Antonio Express-News and the San Francisco Chronicle as a Hearst Journalism Fellow, and has held positions at the Poynter Institute and the Palm Beach Post. Ashley earned her master’s degree in journalism from Syracuse University.