San Francisco inches closer to even-year elections
After four elections in 2022, San Francisco voters may choose to give themselves a break in 2023, as The City is one step closer to holding city elections in even years.
Disregarding criticism from Mayor London Breed, the Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to advance a proposed charter amendment, the Voter Participation Act, to the November ballot.
In a bid to increase voter turnout, the amendment would move the election of the mayor and several other top city posts from odd to even years, aligning them with federal and state elections that tend to draw San Franciscans to the polls in greater numbers.
“We are way behind the times, so this is a pretty simple, straightforward change and the numbers are very clear. This will probably double — maybe even more — voter turnout,” Supervisor Dean Preston, who sponsored the measure, told The Examiner.
Of those who opposed the charter amendment — supervisors Matt Dorsey, Shamann Walton, Rafael Mandelman and Gordon Mar — several expressed concern about the haste with which it would take effect, effectively canceling the 2023 election and pushing it to 2024.
The City has tentatively scheduled bond measures that require voter approval, some supervisors noted, for the 2023 election.
Dorsey objected on philosophical grounds and worried that aligning local elections with federal and state elections would leave two years between elections in San Francisco — a long time to wait to hear from voters, Dorsey said.
Breed had previously voiced opposition to the proposal.
In an interview with CBS Radio, Breed labeled the proposal as a move by Democratic Socialists, of which Preston is one, to exert more “control and power,” and lamented that the charter amendment was not subject to public input before Preston introduced it.
But Preston’s proposal earned the support of a wide array of civic organizations, including California Common Cause, whose leaders believe it will boost voter participation.
“This sort of change has proven to improve local democracy,” Pedro Hernandez, legal and policy director for California Common Cause, said at a rally to support the proposal outside City Hall on Tuesday.
A 2013 study by the Greenlining Institute compared Los Angeles, which had off-year municipal elections, to San Diego, which had already consolidated its local elections with state and federal elections in even years. The latter city, the study found, had significantly higher turnout rates in local elections.
Los Angeles changed course and shifted to even-year elections. A 2021 report by Common Cause found participation in Los Angeles City Council races increased from 11% in 2015 to 38% in 2020, the first year the change took effect, amounting to a tripling of turnout.
In San Francisco, The City had a turnout of 42% of registered voters in the 2019 mayoral race, a significant drop from the 75% turnout in 2018.
Preston’s supporters believe the Voter Participation Act could change that trend, as well as save The City some cash.
By holding fewer elections, The City could save an estimated $7 million in the next year, according to a budget office analysis.
If the measure is approved by voters in November, the positions of mayor, sheriff, city attorney and district attorney would be elected in even years instead of odd. (Supervisors are already elected in even years.)
Breed’s term is not scheduled to expire until the end of 2023. If approved, the proposal would extend her term by a year to 2024, an even year. From then on, the mayor would continue to be elected every four years.
Addressing Breed’s criticism, Preston said shifting municipal elections to even years is hardly a new issue and has been discussed in California for more than a decade.
“If people view high turnout as some kind of power grab for socialists, then capitalism is in more trouble than I thought it was,” Preston said.