San Jose measure to shift mayoral elections one step closer to ballot
Labor leaders turned in signatures to qualify the Fair Elections Initiative for the November ballot. Photo courtesy of South Bay Labor Council.

After six months of campaigning for support, top labor leaders announced on Wednesday they’ve secured enough signatures to qualify the Fair Elections Initiative for the November 2020 ballot, a measure they say will put a cap on money in politics and increase voter turnout by aligning mayoral elections with presidential years.

With the help of community organizations and powerful groups like the San Jose branch of the NAACP, the union-backed measure received more than 100,000 signatures, far surpassing the required 70,000 needed to qualify for the upcoming ballot in the fall. At a news conference Wednesday, supporters said the measure “will grow democracy” and “double” voter participation.

“The Fair Elections Initiative will change the electoral landscape in the city of San Jose, increase voter turnout and stop the corrupt practice of pay-to-play,” South Bay Labor Council executive director Ben Field said.

The measure has secured support from top politicians across the state including Congressmembers Zoe Lofgren, Ro Khanna and Anna Eshoo as well as State Sen. Jim Beall and Assemblymembers Evan Low, Ash Kalra, Bob Wieckowski and Kansen Chu.

Earlier this year, a poll conducted by EMC Research showed that 80 percent of likely San Jose voters backed the initiative.

For nearly a year, labor advocates had been pushing for the measure, which proposes that the mayor be elected during presidential years, rather than in midterm elections.

Supporters said this reform will encourage more local turnout from women, younger voters and people of color.

In an op-ed for San José Spotlight, San Jose State University professor Garrick Percival and assistant professor Mary Currin-Percival highlighted the low rate of participation in recent mayoral elections. In 2014, only 43% of registered voters in San Jose cast ballots for mayor, they wrote, and in the June 2018 primary election Mayor Sam Liccardo won re-election with just 36% of registered voters participating. The professors said voter participation could jump to 69% during presidential years.

The initiative would also prohibit mayoral and City Council candidates from accepting donations from lobbyists, anyone who’s received city contracts equaling more than $250,000 and large residential or for-profit developers.

But opponents, which include the region’s top business lobbies, argued the proposed ballot measure seeks to remove special interest money out of local politics, but doesn’t hold labor unions to the same standard.

“The proposed measure would change the timing of mayoral elections and ban certain special interest campaign contributions, while exempting labor unions from the new rules,” Matt Mahood, president and CEO of the Silicon Valley Organization, said last month.

The move comes after the San Jose City Council last April narrowly voted against putting the initiative on the ballot, including Liccardo who voted against extending his own term. Advocates later changed the measure’s language to ensure it doesn’t give Liccardo two more years in office, saying polling shows it garnered stronger voter support that way.

“While the council refused to put this issue on the ballot, the people have been successful,” Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco said on Wednesday. “If passed by the electorate, the ballot measure would move the mayoral election to 2024 to align with the increased turnout at the presidential election that would support a more diverse and robust election.”

While the mayor supports increasing voter turnout, he said aligning the two elections would distract voters from local issues.

Next, San Jose City Clerk Toni Taber will work with the county Registrar of Voters to verify the signatures before it can be qualified for the ballot later this year.

If the measure passes in November, voters would elect a new mayor in 2022 who will face a re-election in 2024 — the next presidential election. If re-elected in 2024, the new mayor would serve a full four-year term until 2028.

Contact Nadia Lopez at [email protected] or follow @n_llopez on Twitter.

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