What it does
This measure creates a pilot program that would open all San Francisco polling places on the Saturday before the 2011 General Election to test the effectiveness of Saturday voting. This measure would not eliminate existing Tuesday voting or vote-by-mail.
The pilot project would not be funded by tax dollars, but instead by private donations to be raised by the measure's proponents and administered by the City Controller. Contributors and donation amounts supporting the pilot project would be disclosed to the public. If the measure passes, the proponents would have until July 1, 2011, to raise the costs of opening the polls the additional Saturday. The estimated cost of the pilot project is between $1-3.5 million.
At the conclusion of the pilot, the measure directs the Department of Elections to prepare a study on the efficacy of Saturday voting. It would then be up to the Board of Supervisors or another vote of the people to continue Saturday voting using public funds.
Why it is on the ballot
Inspired by the national organization Why Tuesday, local public affairs consultant and Project Homeless Connect creator, Alex Tourk, led the effort to place the Saturday Voting pilot project on the ballot.
Why Tuesday is a non-partisan, non-profit organization working to increase voter participation by reforming the elections process. In particular, they are working to move Election Day from Tuesday to Saturday.
Congress established Tuesday voting in 1845. According to proponents of this measure, Tuesday was chosen to both to avoid interference with religious observances on the weekend and to provide the then-mostly agrarian voters enough time to reach polling places after the weekend.
Proponents believe that Tuesday voting is antiquated and that voters need an election system that fits with their modern schedules. As evidence that Tuesday voting depresses turnout, they cite that the US is 132nd out of 179 developed nations in voter participation rates. Many other countries, such as France, Germany, and Japan, vote on the weekend or on a holiday. In San Francisco, voter participation rates on average are around 47% of registered voters.
This measure was put on the ballot with signatures. It was never introduced at the Board of Supervisors as an ordinance.
- This measure should lead to higher voter turnout by providing the electorate with an additional option to cast ballots.
- The measure benefits people who do not work on the weekends (which is most people) and could allow the voting process to be more of a community and family activity.
- This measures provides a "free" test of the idea of Saturday voting.
- This measure only addresses one of the many potential reasons why people do not vote. On its own, an additional day of voting may not lead to higher voter turnout.
- The measure attempts to address what is ultimately a national issue and best addressed at a higher level of government.
- This measure is not necessary. We already have early voting at City Hall and permanent absentee voting (vote-by-mail). Both already provide the flexibility needed by voters for whom Tuesday is inconvenient.
- This measure only states that donations will fund "the cost of operating satellite voting locations." It is not clear where the resources come from for the Controller's office to administer the donation fund, for the Department of Elections to conduct non-satellite elections activities and, likely the most costly, to promote and educate voters on Saturday voting.
This measure is ultimately about encouraging a broader change in voter turnout. We agree that low voter turnout is a national and local problem. We also recognize that there are many potential ways to increase voter turnout. Establishing Saturday voting is just one of them.
We are concerned that this could impose real and significant costs if adopted permanently, and the privately financed costs of implementing the pilot may not be representative of the full costs of a sustained Saturday voting program.
On balance, though, we think this is a worthwhile pilot project to try. While the proponents argue that Saturday voting has community and civil society benefits, we believe that the only true metric of success for this measure is the increase in voter participation in elections. If it leads to measurably higher voting in local elections, that will be of benefit to our democracy.
SPUR recommends a "Yes" vote on Proposition I.