For the first time since San Jose residents got the power to vote for mayor in 1966, the city’s top elected official could be decided on the same ballot as the president.
The San Jose Charter Review Commission on Monday voted to recommend the city move its mayoral contests from midterm election years to presidential election years starting in 2024. Commissioner Tobin Gilman was the lone dissenting vote among the 17 members present.
The proposal still has to win approval from the San Jose City Council at a later date. Should the council approve it, the city attorney’s office will draft a ballot measure—voters will ultimately decide on any changes to the city charter.
“Low turnout is problematic, particularly when the voice and preferences of people who typically participate in elections have different experiences and policy preferences than people who typically vote less often,” said Commissioner Garrick Percival. “This proposal is designed to make San Jose mayoral elections more representative of the local community.”
If voters eventually pass the proposal, the mayor elected in 2022 will have a chance to run for two additional terms in 2024 and 2028.
The recommendation to shift mayoral elections was first brought up at the commission in July by Percival, a political science professor at San Jose State University. Percival said Monday that shifting the mayoral election to presidential years will increase voter turnout by at least 33%, or 169,000 votes.
The changes in turnout could be significant, according to some political experts. Larry Gerston, a professor emeritus of political science at San Jose State University, says the shift in election years is likely to bolster turnout numbers.
“The presidential election is the draw for people who might not otherwise want to vote in other years,” Gertson told San José Spotlight. “That’s going to be an obvious outcome.”
Community organizations, including the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP and labor groups, have pushed for the change since 2019. They say shifting the mayoral election to presidential election years will help with voter turnout among low-income voters and voters of color, who historically turn out less in off-presidential years. According to studies by the Pew Research Center, white and more affluent voters are more likely to vote than other demographics, especially in midterm elections.
Minorities in San Jose, however, make up a majority of the population, so the impact might not be as stark as other cities, Gerston says.
“San Jose already has a solid majority of people of color,” Gerston said. “How much does that influence (turnout)? It could, at the margins. But the margins make all the difference in the world.”
A June 2020 petition by labor leaders to get a similar proposal on the ballot failed to get enough signatures. The city then gave the responsibility for exploring the topic to the Charter Review Commission.
“In an era of rampant voter suppression across the country that threatens the political voice of communities of color, we must take this opportunity to make the democratic process accessible to everyone,” said Krista De La Torre, political organizer with the South Bay Labor Council. “We must work together to remove every possible barrier to voting in order to facilitate the highest level of voter participation.”