The second Tuesday in November has all the makings of becoming one of the most significant midterm elections in San Jose history. Still, that history making moment could be a washout if voter participation is low.
We won’t know how San Jose fares until the final results, but surprises can happen when voter engagement is paltry. Our next city leaders could be elected by a minority of voters. A far from stellar outcome in a city with more than one million people. If only 20-30% vote, everyone else is voluntarily giving away their power of choice and shouldn’t complain about the results if not to their liking.
Yet the slightest shift can sway a race. The Vietnamese community accounts for roughly 10% of the city’s electorate. Depending on their engagement, the mayor’s race could tilt for or against either candidate. The same could be said of the Hispanic population, which accounts for 31% of the city’s population.
San Jose is voting for a new mayor for the first time in eight years, with Sam Liccardo terming out. Will Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez be the city’s first female mayor since Susan Hammer 24 years ago? Or will it be freshman San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan, looking to leap from his one-term council seat to running the 10th largest city in the nation? Every eligible San Jose voter has a hand in the outcome, whether they vote or not.
Depending on who wins, there will be a special election either for a new county supervisor in District 2 or a new city councilmember in District 10. So even after the mayor’s race is over, residents still have one more vote to cast.
If you don’t know where Chavez and Mahan stand, San José Spotlight is hosting a free candidate forum on Sept. 15. Individuals can livestream the event or watch in person. It’s an easy way to learn about the candidates and make an informed decision. The other is by following our extensive election coverage.
The mayor’s seat, however, is not the only seismic change coming. Four out of 10 citywide districts could have new councilmembers, with Districts 3, 5 and 7 being decided this November and District 1 already going to Rosemary Kamei, who won the June primary. Depending on the outcome, half of the city council could be women, including District 9 Councilmember Pam Foley who was reelected in June after running unopposed.
With so much at stake, why would anyone sit on the sidelines? Especially when the ballot comes right to the door. There is absolutely no excuse not to vote on Nov. 8.
It’s important to understand each councilmember’s district doesn’t get a lot of votes. Most tallies are only five figures deep, so don’t think your vote doesn’t make a difference. It does. Some candidates win by only several hundred votes. Voting at the grassroots level can be more important than voting for state and federal officials because this is where government affects residents directly and immediately.
If I haven’t convinced you by now to vote, here is one more thought. Your elected officials are the ones who decide where hotels and housing are developed. They decide how much money goes to local parks and how much funding goes to help the homeless population. They create programs for eviction relief and business grants. These officials are part of your life and every decision they make affects how San Jose is run, which in turn impacts your livelihood.
Understanding this sounds like a damn good reason to become engaged. Voting is at the heart of democracy, and we should never take it for granted.
Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. She has more than 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley journalism, including as editor for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Contact Moryt at [email protected] or follow her at @morytmilo on Twitter. Catch up on her monthly editorials here.