San Jose voters to decide on moving mayoral elections
A Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters worker walks past a county voter during the 2021 gubernatorial recall election in this file photo.

    San Jose voters will soon be tasked with deciding if mayoral elections should take place in presidential election years.

    On Tuesday, the City Council voted 10-1 to put the decision before voters for the June 7 primary election. If the measure passes with a simple majority, it will shift the timing of the next mayoral election from 2026 to 2024—shortening the term of the next mayor to two years instead of four. The mayor elected this year will have a chance to run for two additional terms.

    Councilmember Dev Davis, who is running for mayor, was the lone dissenting vote. She noted the $617,000 price tag to put the measure on the ballot could be used elsewhere.

    “We could better spend (the money) on get out the vote efforts in those odd-numbered years to increase voter turnout not only for the mayoral race, but for all of the odd-numbered districts that have lower turnout,” Davis said.

    Other councilmembers said the ballot measure is an effort to increase voter turnout, and therefore broaden representation. Councilmember Pam Foley initially opposed the idea in 2019 where it failed by a slim margin, but has since come around to it.

    “Since then, I’ve taken a look at the issue and determined that individuals in the districts will vote for the district candidates because it’s a competitive race and because we’re out there working to gain our residents’ support,” Foley said.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo, who also initially opposed changing the election timing in 2019, brought it up again in 2020. He ultimately dropped the idea 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.

    Increasing participation

    Studies led by Garrick Percival, a San Jose State political science professor and member of the Charter Review Commission, found that moving the mayoral election could increase turnout by 150,000 to 160,000 additional voters simply because more people vote in the presidential election.

    “This change is the most impactful thing that you can do to try to increase participation in the mayoral elections,” Percival told San José Spotlight. “It is an effort to really strengthen our democracy to have broad-based participation in our arguably most consequential local political election.”

    Councilmember Matt Mahan, who is also running for mayor, told San José Spotlight before the meeting he sees the benefit in both keeping and changing the timing of the mayoral race.

    “The presidential race takes a lot of the air out of the room, and I think it’s healthy for us to have a focus on state and local issues. That being said, I also agree with the argument that a more representative electorate is a good thing,” Mahan said, noting he supports putting the measure before voters to decide.

    Councilmember and mayoral candidate Raul Peralez said he supports the proposed ballot measure, and hopes city voters will too.

    “It benefits our city to ensure that we have the most participation possible in voting for our mayor,” Peralez told San José Spotlight. “I think it would be great to have a full four-year term, but I’m completely onboard with this being an acceptable consequence of moving the mayoral race.”

    Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez, another leading mayoral candidate, did not respond to a request for comment.

    A flood of support for the ballot measure came from residents, but others are fearful the move could result in lower voter turnout in non-presidential election years for odd-numbered districts where many historically disenfranchised communities live.

    “(Moving the mayoral election) will greatly affect your council elections and also potentially allow special interests to push through items in a year when no one basically is going to be paying attention to the election cycle,” said resident Todd W, who did not provide his last name.

    However, Percival and another commissioner, Huy Tran, said the commission’s data did not support arguments that changing the election timing would lower voter turnout for other local races.

    “I don’t see any data to suggest that the mayor is the reason that gets people out to vote,” Tran told San José Spotlight. “There’s a lot of reasons for people who already go out to vote to continue to do so and I don’t think any of that gets lost if we shift.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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