by Allyssa Victory
Oakland is scheduled to have a special school board election on Nov. 7, 2023, open only to District 5 residents to fill the current vacancy for the School Board director. District 5 Oakland begins in East Oakland around the 23rd Avenue and ends around the mid-60s including neighborhoods of Fruitvale, Melrose and High Street. As the school board remains split on critical decisions, filling the District 5 seat to bring the total to seven members is a priority.
District 5 was previously represented by School Board Director Mike Hutchinson. During the City redistricting process, Director Hutchinson’s home became part of Oakland city District 4 instead of 5. Director Hutchinson was left to decide whether to run for the District 4 election in 2022 or to complete his term until 2026 then be ineligible to run for re-election in District 5.
Director Hutchinson decided to run again in 2022 to secure a full term as now the District 4 director. Hutchinson ran several times before being elected in 2020 and has been a longtime advocate of school equity. In the November 2022 general election, Director Hutchinson, Pecolia Manigo and Nick Resnick ran for the District 4 School Board director seat in a highly contested election.
In November 2022, the Alameda County registrar of voters published election results showing that Director Hutchinson was eliminated first in the ranked choice ballot count, handing the win to Nick Resnick. However, the county registrar then issued public notice admitting its own error that it inaccurately counted ballots under the required ranked choice voting method.
The county registrar’s error resulted in candidate Manigo’s elimination in the first round of ranked choice cuts and Hutchinson ultimately winning the District 4 seat. However, litigation ensued and took some months to resolve, eventually confirming Hutchinson as the new District 4 School Board director. After resolution, Hutchinson’s win transferred him to now begin a four-year term in District 4. Hutchinson was eventually sworn into the District 4 director seat and then elected as the president of the School Board in early 2023.
Hutchinson’s victory left his former District 5 seat vacant with two years left in the term. When the School Board did not appoint a candidate within the time period allowed, the County Superintendent of Education Alysse Castro scheduled the special election for Nov. 7, 2023.
Two people submitted candidate filings for the special election by the Aug. 11 deadline: Jorge Lerma and Sasha Ritzie-Hernandez. Lerma is a longtime figure in Oakland education, having served in various education policy roles. Ritzie-Hernandez is a fresh face on the political scene and a new voter! Ritzie-Hernandez just gained citizenship in 2022 and will be able to vote for the first time in her own election. Ritzie-Hernandez identifies as Afro-Latina. Ritzie Hernandez may be a new citizen and voter, but she is a longtime education advocate and organizer.
However, around Aug. 16, the county registrar and city clerk announced that neither candidate qualified for the ballot due to the City of Oakland’s error in application of the new District 5 boundaries adopted in the 2021 redistricting process. The Oakland city clerk’s office is the authority and elections office for all Oakland elections. The county registrar provides services to the City including verification of voter registrations and administers elections, including ballot printing and designation of polling locations. The county registrar confirmed that both candidates are registered voters within the new District 5 boundaries but that each failed to obtain signatures from the minimum of 50 voters residing within the new district boundaries.
These failures come on the heels of massive errors and misinformation provided in the 2022 general election. The Oakland city clerk provided the incorrect filing deadline to Oakland candidates and scheduled appointments after the date for at least half the candidates running for Oakland mayor. The City illegally disqualified candidate Allyssa Victory, Esq., who successfully challenged the City’s application of its own local signature rules. After agreement by the Secretary of State’s Elections Office and review by the Oakland City Attorney’s Office, candidate Victory was reinstated to the ballot. However, three other mayoral candidates were disqualified due, in part, to the disinformation and incorrect timelines given by the city clerk.
The special school board election is the only election the City of Oakland is required to administer in 2023 and yet the office has failed to improve after its 2022 failures. Candidates were notified on Aug. 18 by the Oakland city clerk’s office that they were going to be deemed qualified candidates and believed that the county will not take an adverse position. The city clerk’s office has still not provided clear guidance or transparency to the public on how these errors and miscommunications occurred, what was done by the City to remedy issues identified in the last election cycle and confirmation of the special school board election proceeding including location of polling sites.
Many issues are at stake in our public school system. Resnick was the first LGBTQ-identified candidate to join the school board but his win was overturned by elections error confirmed in litigation. Oakland is home to one the largest populations per capita of lesbian residents. This absolutely includes our public school staff, families and student populations. Oakland’s LGBTQ youth center and other programs have existed for years. Gay Straight Alliance (or “GSA”) chapters have been prominent throughout Oakland and Bay Area schools for decades.
The Bay Area is home to some of the longest standing Pride celebrations and other celebrations of queer youth including Oakland’s annual Pride parade and celebration scheduled for Sept. 10. If Ritzie-Hernandez is elected, she will round out the women-identified school board members to three out of the seven total School Board directors. The other two women serving as School Board directors were recently elected in November 2022: Jennifer Brouhard in District 2 and Valarie Bachelor in District 6.
Allyssa Victory is a civil rights attorney, former Oakland mayoral candidate, community leader and Bay View columnist. Contact her on Twitter at @Victory4Oakland.