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

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

On June 7, Berkeley 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.

Just as important are the local races that will be on the ballot. Alameda County voters will be picking the next district attorney, sheriff, and superintendent of schools, among other things.

We’ve written about why these county offices matter for Berkeley residents. For example, the superintendent of public instruction oversees the Berkeley Unified School District and monitors its budget. 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 the sheriff operates the Santa Rita Jail, one of the largest in the country, serves eviction notices and can make emergency declarations in times of disaster.

This guide is to help Berkeley voters understand the June 7 primary and learn how to take part. We’ll update it based on your questions and suggestions.

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 Berkeleyans will get to pick the next councilmembers for districts 1, 4, 7 and 8, a city auditor, three school board directors and five rent board commissioners and choose among several ballot measures.

What’s the June 7 primary election all about?

A ballot collection box on the UC Berkeley campus, Oct. 13, 2020. Credit: 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 Berkeley 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.

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

One race for state Assembly on the June primary ballot is of particular importance to Berkeley. Incumbent Buffy Wicks is running for the 14th District (North Oakland, Berkeley, Richmond). She is 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 Berkeleyans vote for City Council 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 Berkeley 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. The boxes in Berkeley are located at:
    • Berkeley Civic Center, 2180 Milvia St.
    • UC Berkeley, between Sather Gate and the Architects & Engineers building
    • Frances Albrier Community Center, 2800 Park St.
    • Claremont Branch Library, 2940 Benvenue Ave.
    • North Branch Library, 1170 The Alameda
    • West Branch Library, 1125 University Ave.
  • 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, nine voting centers have been identified in Berkeley, 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 see it using this ballot-tracking website.

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