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Election 2014: How Berkeley Voted (News Analysis)
Sharp dropoff in student voting results in record low turnout

Rob Wrenn
Sunday November 30, 2014 - 08:57:00 AM

Only 40,301 ballot were cast in Berkeley in the November 4 election. This is the smallest number in any November election going back to 1980.

Only 50.4% of those registered to vote in Berkeley cast ballots, also below previous lows of 55% in 1980 and 58.9% in 2002. Turnout in Berkeley in gubernatorial elections has typically been 60% or higher since 1980. In presidential election years turnout has been even higher, with a peak turnout of 77.5% in 2008. In that year, 66,703 ballots were cast in Berkeley, 66% more than the number cast this year.

While turnout was down citywide compared to the last gubernatorial election in 2010, when 49,640 votes were cast, a sharp drop off in student voting is responsible for this year's vote falling below the previous citywide low of 41,363 votes in 2002.

Countywide, turnout was only 45.0%, and the Chronicle reported on Monday that turnout statewide was 42%, well below the previous statewide low of 50.5% in 2002.

The drop-off in votes in Berkeley is even more remarkable when you consider that between 1980 and 2010, the local population grew 9%, from 103,328 to 112,580. It has continued to grow since 2010 according the Census Bureau. So the number of people voting was down despite an increase in the number of those eligible to vote.  


Turnout in Berkeley, November Elections, 1986-2014  







Ballots Cast  


Turnout (%)  



























































































































Student Turnout  

The decline in student voting can be seen clearly in the pitifully low vote in District 7, the newly created student supermajority district south of the UC campus. Only 1805 votes were cast there. This represents a turnout of 21.0% of registered voters. The number of votes cast in District 7 is less than half the number cast in District 4, the central Berkeley district, which has a significant but smaller student population, and less than a quarter of the votes cast in District 5, a predominantly homeowner district located east of Spruce and north of Cedar, with few student residents. 

Student turnout has always been lower than non-student turnout in Berkeley, but his year it reached new lows not previously seen in November elections. In presidential elections a lot more students vote than in gubernatorial elections. 2008, the year that Obama won his first term, was a year of record high turnout in Berkeley. That year over 75% voted in two student dormitory precincts, and there was an average turnout of two-thirds in student precincts north of Dwight Way. But even at its peak in 2008, student turnout was below the citywide average turnout of 77.5%. 

Comparing the student vote this year to previous elections, the number of votes cast in seven precincts located north of Dwight Way near campus was down 59% compared to the 2010 gubernatorial election and down 83% compared to the peak-turnout 2008 presidential election. In excess of 85% of the residents of these precincts are students. 

The drop off is student voting was not confined to District 7. Precincts with substantial student populations like the Downtown precincts in District 4 and on the Northside precincts in District 6 also saw a sharp drop in voting that exceeded the citywide drop of 18.8% compared to 2010. In the absence of exit polls or surveys, it's impossible to say whether the students in these more mixed precincts turned out in different proportions to the precincts' non-students, but there is a clear correlation between percent of students in a precinct and the extent of the drop off in voting. 

Redistricting resulted in substantial changes to district boundaries which makes district-level turnout comparisons with previous elections problematic. But it is possible to compare turnout in clusters of precincts that kept the same boundaries. Based on that, the number of votes cast in non-student areas of the city, compared to 2010, dropped by amounts ranging from 10% for four District 5 precincts near Solano and Marin to 16% for five District 4 precincts west of MLK, with groups of precincts in Districts 1 and 8 experiencing drops of 11 or 12%. 

Why was student turnout so low this year? First and foremost, because it was not a presidential election year. But it was also low in comparison to other gubernatorial years. The absence of any hot races at the top of the ballot may help to explain it. Few people doubted that Jerry Brown would be re-elected governor and he won easily by 60%-40% according to the not quite final count. There was no U.S. Senate race this year which, with control of the Senate being hotly contested, might have inspired more students to go to the polls. This year's relatively small batch of propositions weren't as likely to stimulate voting as more controversial propositions have done in the past such as Prop 8 (anti-Gay Marriage) in 2008 or Prop 187 (anti-immigrant) in 1994. To really know the answer, you would need to survey students about their reasons for not voting. 



Turnout in Berkeley by City Council District, Nov. 4, 2014  


Council Dist.  




Ballots Cast  


Turnout (%)  


































































Only 40,301 Citywide  








8 student precincts  









City Council District 7 

18 year incumbent Council member Kriss Worthington was reelected in District 7 over Sean Barry by a vote of 832 to 662, or 55.7% to 44.3%. 

Within District 7, precincts closest to campus, those north of Dwight Way, had a much lower turnout than those south of Dwight. Consolidated precinct 400/430 which includes part of the LeConte neighborhood south of Dwight and a small piece of the Willard neighborhood had a turnout of 50.2%. Together with Precinct 460, also south of Dwight, it accounted for 43% of all the votes cast in the district, which consists of 9 regular precincts (five of them consolidated) and two smaller vote by mail precincts. 

By contrast, only 12.3% of the voters in consolidated precinct 251/252 voted. That precinct, located east of Piedmont between Bancroft and Dwight, includes numerous fraternities and sororities and apartment buildings. 

Barry defeated Worthington by 11 votes (117-106) in two consolidated precincts comprising most of the area east of College where a large majority of UC's fraternities and sororities are located. Barry also won consolidated precinct 400-430 by 2 votes. It's likely that he won in the Willard portion (precinct 400), where Worthington has not done well in past elections, and lost in the LeConte portion (precinct 430) where he has always come in ahead of his opponents. 

In 2012, voters approved Measure R, which allowed the City Council greater leeway in changing council district boundaries during redistricting, which takes place every ten years after the release of Census data. Effectively, whoever has a majority on the Council at the time of redistricting can gerrymander district boundaries in an effort to reduce the re-election chances for council members not in the majority. When district elections replaced at-large elections in 1986, the amendment to the charter required that new district boundaries necessitated by population changes would preserve, to the extent possible, the boundaries established in 1986. Measure R ended this requirement. 

As part of the deal that won unanimous Council support for the measure, it was decided that no district boundary changes could be made that would result in two sitting Council members being in the same district. So, in District 7, a small piece of the Willard neighborhood (part of the old precinct 400), where Kriss Worthington's apartment is located, was kept in District 7. As noted above, this is the only part of District 7 that had a somewhat respectable turnout this election. Without the requirement that sitting Council members not be put in the same district, District 7 might have had an even larger student supermajority and an even smaller turnout. 

The changes made to District 7 during redistricting that were approved by the Council majority led by Mayor Tom Bates, added the fraternities, sororities and apartment buildings in precincts east of College to the district. A couple of small vote by mail precincts, not big enough to rate a polling place, near the UC campus between Ellsworth and Fulton were also moved into District 7 from District 4. At the same time the Halycon and Bateman neighborhoods south of Ashby were removed as were most of the Willard neighborhood east of Telegraph, a sizable chunk of the LeConte neighborhood west of Telegraph and a Northside precinct with student coops. Relatively few homeowners remain in District 7. 

With its old, very different boundaries, District 7 had a much higher turnout in the last gubernatorial election; 4862 votes were cast in 2010 compared to this year's 1805 votes. However, the old District 7 also had a larger population that any other district in the city because of the Census undercount of students in 2000 and because the University increased the supply of student housing after 2000. 

Census Undercount of Students 

In 2000, the Census Bureau failed to correctly count the students living in the Unit 1 and Unit 2 dorms located in District 7, counting only 68 residents in two blocks with over 2100 student beds. This and other Census errors in counting students led to the addition of a Northside precinct and to other adjustments to District 7 boundaries that added a net number of new blocks because the Census undercount erroneously showed Districts 7 and 8 with fewer voters than other council districts, and districts are required to have roughly equal populations. 

In 2002, City staff estimated that the undercount in student areas of districts 6, 7 and 8 amounted to 4472 people based on a block by block comparison or 1990 and 2000 Census data. Census Bureau responded by adjusting numbers for some blocks, but for every person they added to one block, they subtracted someone from another block, so that the total count was unchanged. Basically they just shuffled people around. 

Further evidence of the 2000 Census undercount can be seen in the 2010 Census data which shows a population of 16,623 people within the District 7 boundaries that were established based on the official 2000 Census data. Based on the 2000 Census, equal population per district in 2000 was 12,843 and District 7's boundaries allegedly encompassed about that many people. So, the data would suggest that between 2000 and 2010, the population within the 2000 Census-based District 7 boundaries had increased by around 3780 people, or almost 30%, which is quite a big jump. While UC did add beds between 2000 and 2010 and developers built some housing as well, there is no way that this could account for the entire population increase. It's clear that in 2010 the Census Bureau found some of the student housing whose residents they missed in the 2000 count. 

The official 2000 Census data shows a drop in the group living quarters population in Berkeley of 5,197 people, from 11,019 to 5,822, between 1990 and 2000, but it's pretty clear that the UC dorms and other student housing weren't half empty in 2000 as the official Census data would suggest. Clearly the population numbers in the 2000 Census for student areas are pretty worthless. In 2003, city staff modified their estimates after reviewing the Census Bureau's response to their estimates of the undercount. They estimated that the 2000 population in Berkeley was actually 106,354. 

The Census undercount of students in 2000 has created the erroneous impression that there was no real increase in population in Berkeley between 1990 and 2000, followed by a big jump from 2000 to 2010. The official Census figures are 

1990 - 102,724 

2000 - 102,743 

2010 - 112,580 

Using the City's 2003 estimate, a more realistic picture of the change in Berkeley's population looks like this: 

1990 - 102,724 

2000 - 106,354 

2010 - 112,580 


Student Candidates 

Students have always been the majority of the District 7 population since the district was created in 1986 when voters approved the switch from at-large to district elections for City Council. But, in part due to lower turnout by students, no student has ever been elected to represent District 7. 

Two students have mounted serious campaigns for the District 7 Council seat. In 1992, William Shie ran against incumbent Carla Woodworth. In 2002, Micky Weinberg ran against Kriss Worthington. In both elections, the student candidates won in the high rise dorm precincts, where most of the voters are freshmen and sophomores. But the two incumbent progressive council members won in other student precincts that include student coops and apartment buildings largely populated by students, many of them further to the south of campus than the dorms. Students in these precincts are more likely to be juniors, seniors and grad students. Many of the students who voted in those elections apparently didn't think that they would be better off with a fellow student as their representative on the Council. 

Will a student candidate have a better chance of winning now that District 7 has a supermajority of students? Perhaps. About half the people who live in the new District 7 live in group living quarters, that is dorms, student coops, fraternities and sororities. A smaller proportion are students living in apartments . Compared to the old district, the student population is probably younger on average, more closely connected to the campus, and less connected to the larger Berkeley community. 

Students can potentially have a large impact on Berkeley elections. To illustrate their potential impact, take precinct 491 in the Southside, located immediately south of campus bounded by Bancroft and Channing and Ellsworth and Telegraph. The Unit 3 dorms with 1240 beds are located there. In addition to this dorm complex, there are some houses and apartment buildings in the precinct with probably a few hundred residents, including a newly built apartment building at Ellsworth and Durant. Making generous allowance for International students and a few undocumented or under age residents, there are probably conservatively at least 1300 people eligible to vote in this precinct. Yet, there were only 896 registered voters this year. Of this number, some no longer live there. Because of high turnover in student areas, the voter rolls for student precincts typically contain the names of some people who have moved. 

In this November's election, only 151 of the 896 registered voters voted. Of this 151, only 125 voted for someone for City Council; only 114 voted for or against Measure S, the ballot measure that ratifies the existing student supermajority district ostensibly created for the benefit of students. 

2008, a presidential election year with a record high turnout presents a different picture. In that year the same area was divided into two precincts, which together had 1573 registered voters (1333 in the precinct with Unit 3), again some of them undoubtedly people who had moved from the area. 889 people voted in that election. They cast 548 votes for Berkeley mayoral candidates and 877 votes for presidential candidates. 

The number of registered voters could potentially be higher still but some students opt to register to vote in their hometown rather than at their near campus address, though, for the most part, and certainly in years when there is an active voter registration effort on campus, it seems that most students register in Berkeley, if they register at all, since that is where they will be on election day and voting by mail is still not common for students. 

As a student supermajority district, District 7 is likely to remain a super low turnout district, because elections take place in lower turnout gubernatorial election years rather than in higher turnout presidential years. This came about when Berkeley voters approved the switch from two-year terms for City Council, with all council seats up for re-election each election year, to four year terms. Perhaps more students will vote if one or more students run for city council in a future election, though in past elections, the presence of a student candidate for City Council did not lead to a big jump in voting in student precincts. 

If the City really wanted to facilitate the election of students to the City Council, a charter amendment to restore two year Council terms would help, since there are probably more potential student candidates who could commit to serving a two-year term than a four-year one. To increase turnout in District 7 Council races, a charter amendment to move the District 7 Council race to presidential election years would do the trick. 

Looking ahead to the next round of redistricting after the 2020 Census, will Berkeley follow Oakland's lead and establish a new independent commission to draw council district lines or will it continue to allow the politically-motivated gerrymandering made possible by the passage of Measure R in 2012? In March of this year, District 4 Council member Arreguin announced that he intended to circulate petitions for a ballot initiative to establish an independent citizens redistricting commission. However, nothing came of this effort. Will it be revived in the coming years? 

Berkeley Council Districts 1 and 8 

In the four candidate District 8 Council race, the precinct results show that Mike Alvarez Cohen, who finished third, was strongly favored in the hills above Claremont Ave., getting 52% and 44% in the two precincts there. He did poorly in the area west of College, much of which was previously part of District 7, finishing last in all but one of that area's precincts. 

Lori Droste and George Beier both did well in the precincts west of College, with Droste winning in the Halcyon and Bateman precincts south of Asbhy and in one Willard neighborhood precinct. Beier, who lives in Willard and has been active in the Willard Neighborhood Association for years, won the other Willard precincts. Droste, who got the most first choice votes and was elected, also won her home precinct located east of College, south of Ashby with 45% of the vote. Jacquelyn McCormick, who finished fourth, won one consolidated precinct comprising the part of District 8 north of Dwight, an area with a mix of students and Panoramic Hill homeowners. 

The official results show Lori Droste with 1314 votes (29.2%); George Beier with 1193 votes (26.5%); Mike Alvarez Cohen with 1163 votes (25.8%) and Jacquelyn McCormick with 830 votes (18.4%). In the rounds of ranked choice voting that were necessary since no candidate got 50% of first choice votes, McCormick voters favored Droste, adding to her margin over George Beier. Alvarez Cohen voters favored George Beier but not by enough to overcome Droste's lead. The final ranked choice vote count was 2072 for Droste to 2056 for Beier (50.2%-49.8%). 

In District 1 in northwest Berkeley, 22 year incumbent Linda Maio came in ahead of challenger Alejandro Soto-Vigil in 10 of 12 precincts, winning overall by a comfortable 54.7% to 40.8% margin. The remaining vote went to a third candidate, Merrilie Mitchell. 

Soto-Vigil beat Maio by 9 votes in precinct 970, one of three West Berkeley precincts. (West Berkeley is the area west of San Pablo.) For West Berkeley as a whole, Maio won by 49.2% to 45.6%. Soto Vigil also narrowly won precinct 930, an L-shaped precinct immediately east of San Pablo with a substantial tenant population, bounded on the south by University between Sacramento and San Pablo. 

State Candidates and Measures 

There were no surprises in how Berkeley voted in statewide races this year. Berkeley is still a Democratic Party bastion. Jerry Brown got 95.3% of the vote for governor; Kamala Harris got 93.4% for Attorney General. Tom Torlakson's 81.2% share of the vote in Berkeley in the race for the state's Superintendent for Public Instruction was not as impressive, but was still higher than anywhere else in California. 



How Berkeley Voted  

Selected State, County and Local Races 



Candidate or Measure 











Jerry Brown  

Democrat for Governor 











Kamala Harris  

Democrat for Atty. Gen. 











Yes on Prop 47 CA  

Reduce drug sentences 











Measure BB Alameda Co.  

Transportation sales tax 











YES on D Berkeley  

Soda Tax 











YES on Prop 1 CA  

Water Bonds 











YES of F Berkeley  

Parks parcel tax 











NO on R Berkeley  

Downtown zoning 











Tom Torlakson CA  

Supt Public Instruction 











YES on Prop 45 CA  

Health insurance rates 











YES on S Berkeley  













Berkeley certainly had the highest percentage in the state for Proposition 47, the proposition to reduce penalties for those who commit certain nonviolent and nonserious drug and property crimes. 91.8% voted yes in Berkeley. (San Francisco was 80.1% yes.) Proposition 45, to require the State Insurance Commissioner's approval for individual and small group health insurance rate changes, got 68.9% of the vote in Berkeley, but lost statewide by a 59% to 41% margin. 

Berkeley: Alameda County Measure BB 

Measure BB, the measure to extend and augment the .5% sales tax for transportation, won this time around after a similar measure narrowly fell short of the required two thirds majority in 2012. In Berkeley, the measure won the support of 88.2% of voters. In Oakland the measure had 81.4% supper; in Albany 83.6%.This strong support in the northern part of Alameda County made the difference and offset the weak support in the eastern part of the county. The measure failed to win a majority in Livermore, and fell well short of two-thirds in Pleasanton. 

Berkeley Ballot Measures 

Measure D, to establish a soda tax, passed easily with 76.2% of the vote. It received landslide support of at least 60% in every precinct in the city. And more voted pro or con this tax than voted in any other race on the ballot. Only 1425 did not vote either way, while 1651 voted for no one for governor. The number not voting was higher for Measure R, the downtown zoning measure, with 4156 "undervotes", and for Measure S, the redistricting measure that confirms the current council district boundaries, with 6960 abstaining. 

Measure R was defeated by landslide margins in every precinct. Supporters managed only 37.6% in their best precinct, which was located in a LeConte neighborhood in District 3 between Fulton and Shattuck. 

Measure S, which passed citywide by 63.8% to 36.2%, lost narrowly in 4 precincts, one the Northside student coop and dorm precinct, 2 others in the Southside and one in District 4 west of downtown. Students were divided by the issue with some favoring alternative boundaries for District 7 that would have included the Northside student precinct. Combining the results for eight student precincts north of Dwight Way, including the Northside coop precinct, Measure S won those student areas near campus with 57.4% of the vote. 

Measure F, the increased parcel tax for parks, won with 75.1% of the vote and obtained the required two thirds vote in all but one of the city's precincts, a District 6 hills precinct where it fell short by a single vote. 

Absentee Voting Still on the Rise 

In 2004, 37.2% of ballots cast in Berkeley were vote by mail (aka absentee) ballots . In 2010, it increased to 51.0% and it was 51.7% in the 2012 presidential election. This year, 58.0% of ballots were vote by mail. It appears that many of these were dropped at polling places as most of the absentee ballots this year were counted after election day. 

Students are still much less likely to vote absentee. In eight north of Dwight student precincts (seven from District 7, one from District 6), the percentage voting absentee was only 26%. 

How to Find Out How Your Precinct Voted 

Go to Alameda County Registrar of Voters site. [add link ] Click to open the Statement of Vote in either pdf or xls. Then find the race you are interested in (easier to do in xls). Berkeley precincts come first in the results for each race. Berkeley precinct numbers run from 200100 to 209900. For each precinct, vote by mail results and election day results are reported separately