This may be the last mayoral election in San Jose that aligns with gubernatorial election years.
On June 7, San Jose voters will decide if they want to keep mayoral elections on the off cycle or switch them to coincide with presidential election years. A yes vote on Measure B moves the mayor’s race, while a no vote keeps the election years unchanged. It only needs a simple majority to pass.
The ballot measure was born out of the San Jose Charter Review Commission in an effort to increase voter participation.
“We are trying to strengthen our democracy and trying to get an electorate that is more reflective of people who actually live in the city,” said Garrick Percival, commissioner and San Jose State University political science professor. “This is by far the most effective way to increase participation.”
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Percival along with SJSU professor Mary Currin-Percival conducted a study that found voter participation would increase by 30%, about 150,000-160,000 people, if the election coincides with the presidential race—particularly among Asian and Latino voters.
“There’ll be increases in non-Hispanic and white voters as well,” Percival told thecupertinodigest.com. “Proportionally you’re going to see upticks in groups who historically don’t turn out in large numbers on off-year elections.”
The measure is supported by the South Bay Labor Council, the Asian Law Alliance, the Silicon Valley Minority Business Consortium and Councilmembers Maya Esparza, Raul Peralez and Pam Foley. Mayor Sam Liccardo initially opposed the idea in 2019, then dropped his opposition in 2020 and tasked the Charter Review Commission to consider it. The 23-member commission almost unanimously supported changing the timing of the mayoral election before recommending it to the City Council last year.
Polling data from EMC Research and Silicon Valley Rising Action shows more than 60% of people surveyed in early March support Measure B. Five hundred people were interviewed by telephone and email in English, Spanish and Vietnamese, with an overall margin of error of ±4.38 percentage points.
“It’s pretty simple to me,” Asian Law Alliance Executive Director Richard Konda told thecupertinodigest.com. “I think we want as many people as possible to participate in elections. By moving the mayoral election to coincide with a presidential election, it’s going to automatically increase turnout.”
But for other local leaders and groups, it’s not that simple.
A better use of money?
Councilmember and mayoral candidate Dev Davis was the lone dissenter when the City Council approved putting the measure ahead of voters. At that meeting, she argued spending $617,000 to put the measure on the ballot was wasteful. She was not available for comment.
Davis also co-authored the opposing arguments with leaders from the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association, Citizens for Fiscal Responsibility and Alum Rock Union School District trustee Linda Chavez. They argue local issues will be lost in the heat of national contests, and voiced concern that the shift will increase the influence of special interest groups pouring more money into mayoral candidates.
“The PACs will determine who gets elected because your every day resident won’t have an avenue to get there,” Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association board member and San Jose Planning Commissioner Pierluigi Oliverio told thecupertinodigest.com. “It’s just a bigger election. They have to compete with more people spending money on the election, so those receiving large, special interest money are the only ones going to be able to afford to run during that type of campaign.”
Oliverio said it’s “a measure looking for a problem,” and moves away from what other big cities across the nation currently do such as San Francisco, New York City and Seattle—which host mayoral elections on off-cycle, odd numbered years to focus attention on that race.
But Percival said the study he conducted does not support those claims.
“There’s already lots of distraction on gubernatorial election years,” Percival said, pointing to statewide initiatives, congressional runs and other state-level races. He added most voters also make decisions based on shortcuts such as endorsements.
Percival said other large cities are moving their mayoral elections as well. Austin, Texas voted last year to move its elections. Baltimore, Maryland aligned its local races to presidential years and voter participation rose from 13% to 60%, according to the National Civic League, a nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to advancing civic engagement.
If passed, the mayor elected in November will serve a two-year term. However, they will be allowed to serve for two additional four-year terms afterward for a total of 10 years.
Read the full text of Measure B.
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