Proposition F - Changes to Election CyclesNovember 1, 2008
What it does
Proposition F is an amendment to the San Francisco City Charter that would change the election cycle of citywide elected officials from odd years to even years. If passed, the City would still hold elections in 2009 and 2011, but would not hold any election for citywide offices in 2013 or subsequent odd years. Citywide officials elected in 2009 and 2011 would serve five-year terms. The five-year term would count as a single term under term limits.
The mayor, sheriff and district attorney would be elected in November 2011, and then in 2016, and every subsequent four years, on a cycle that corresponds with the presidential election. This would also be the case for the Community College District and the Board of Education. The offices of treasurer and city attorney would be up for election in November 2009, and then 2014 and subsequently on the even years in between presidential elections, corresponding with the California governor's race.
Prop. F would not change the election cycle of City supervisors, as they are already elected on even years. Prop. F also would mean that ballot measures such as initiative ordinances and charter amendments would appear on the ballot only in even-numbered years — except in the event of a special election, such as a recall.
Why it is on the ballot
A majority of the members of the Board of Supervisors voted to place Proposition F onto the ballot. A similar version of this measure was introduced several times in recent years, but had never made it to the ballot.
SPUR has written on the relationship between elections and voter turnout. In a 2005 article, we noted that one way San Francisco could increase the number of people who vote is to shift the timing of elections so they coincide with presidential and gubernatorial elections. According to SPUR's analysis, over the past 30 years, turnout of registered voters has averaged about 69 percent for presidential elections, 58 percent for gubernatorial elections, 52 percent for mayoral elections and just 38 percent for non-mayoral municipal elections.
Arguments in favor Prop. F:
- Prop. F likely would increase voter turnout in local elections.
- Reducing the total number of elections would save money. This measure could save $4 million to $5 million per election.
- Changing the timing of elections would eliminate some of the voter suppression strategy of ballot measures attempted at times when there is less turnout.
Arguments against Prop. F:
- By holding the major citywide elections at the same time as a presidential election, the voters would not focus on local citywide offices with the same level of intensity as if the election were held at its own time.
- While San Francisco's mayoral elections are nonpartisan, the presidential election is not. This provides the possibility that our elections would take on a more partisan character.
- Most other major cities hold their mayoral elections in odd years. Of the 20 largest cities in the United States, only Washington, D.C. holds its election in even years — and that election does not coincide with the presidential election.
- Changing the timing of local elections could result in reduced media coverage of San Francisco elections, as the major focus would be on the national elections.
While Prop F certainly would increase voter turnout for city elected offices, that increase would not be the result of increased involvement in local issues. Instead, it would be a byproduct of the excitement of a presidential race. In fact, Prop. E would actually suppress the attention and excitement local elections otherwise might receive, as they would be competing for attention with a presidential election. Our local democracy needs a serious investment of time and attention from voters, something Prop F. does not help achieve.
SPUR recommends a "No" vote on Prop. F.