In a historic move, San Jose voters overwhelmingly decided Tuesday to move the city’s mayoral elections in an effort to boost voter turnout — particularly among communities of color.
After polls closed on Tuesday, early election results show 57% of voters said yes to Measure B, an initiative that will align the city’s mayoral elections to coincide with presidential election years. The citywide measure, which goes into effect in 2024, needed a simple majority to pass.
Proponents of the measure said it ensures the mayor reflects the diversity of San Jose by increasing voter turnout among underrepresented groups such as minorities and women. Opponents worried local issues could be lost during presidential election in the storm of national debate and give special interests groups more influence in electing the mayor.
Supporters celebrated the resounding win on Tuesday.
Gabriela Chavez-Lopez, executive director of Latina Coalition of Silicon Valley, said Measure B’s passage means younger and more diverse voters can participate in future elections.
“It’s very positive news for our city and democracy,” she said. “I’m excited we’ll be able to engage more voters and have people showing up at the polls for local elections that impact their daily lives.”
Chavez-Lopez said civic conversations in San Jose need to be more inclusive — and the measure can accomplish this.
“It will be good for young voters, working people and women of color, particularly Latinas,” she said. “We are forecasting this will, based on the last three presidential elections, increase the Latina vote by 150%. Hopefully our elected officials will better represent the voices of the people of San Jose.”
The ballot measure was created by the San Jose Charter Review Commission, a 23-member commission in September 2020 to review the city’s charter and make recommendations for changes. In addition to shifting the mayoral elections, the commission recommended expanding the San Jose City Council from to 14 districts, allowing councilmembers to nominate a city manager and switching to ranked-choice voting.
The commission was formed after Mayor Sam Liccardo last year pushed for a “strong mayor” system to allow the mayor more authority and the ability to hire city officials. After numerous meetings, the commission decided not to support that idea.
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But moving the mayoral election, they argued, could only benefit San Jose voters.
A study conducted by two San Jose State University political science professors found voter participation would increase by 30%, particularly among Asian and Latino voters, if the mayoral election coincided with the presidential race.
Mayra Pelagio, executive director of Latinos United for a New America, said low Latino voter turnout negatively impacts Latino candidates and East Side residents.
“The lower the turnout for the community, the less likelihood those folks who live there will have a representative who understands their backgrounds, understands their struggles and aligns with the resources the community needs,” she said.
San Jose on Tuesday voted to elect a new mayor to replace Liccardo who terms out in December. The top two vote-getters, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez and San Jose Councilmember Matt Mahan, appear to be headed for a runoff election in November. The winner 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.
When the San Jose City Council approved putting Measure B before voters in February, Councilmember and mayoral candidate Dev Davis dissented, saying spending $617,000 to put it on the ballot was wasteful.
“If we want money to matter less in elections, we should not change the mayoral election cycle,” Davis told San José Spotlight at the time. “Also, we have better discussions about local issues when it’s not a presidential election year.”
The approval of Measure B comes Santa Clara County saw an alarmingly low turnout rate among Latino voters during the primary election.
In Santa Clara County, 174,085 registered Latino voters were mailed a ballot but only 22,325 had returned them by mid-day. That’s about 13% and represents the lowest turnout among white, African American or Asian voters. Statewide, the average ballot return rate for Latino voters was 9%, according to PDI data.
Latina leaders said Measure B levels the playing field, bringing political equity and access for people of color.
“There is so much injustice here in Silicon Valley that we endure,” said Maria Fuentes, who served on the Charter Review Commission and is a San José-Evergreen Community College District trustee. “And this is one way to get more people involved and our voices and votes counted. We, as a community, must take advantage of the opportunity to change the voting process so that more people will be able to have a voice in who becomes elected as our mayor.”
Contact Lorraine Gabbert at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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