Moves San Francisco local elections to even-numbered years concurrent with presidential elections and adjusts the initiative ordinance signature requirements to 2% of registered voters.
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What the Measure Would Do
Proposition H would move local elections for mayor, sheriff, district attorney, city attorney and treasurer to even-numbered years and put them on the same ballot as presidential elections. It would also extend the current term of these roles until January 8, 2025; the officials currently filling these roles would get an additional year in their seats.
Lastly, the measure would change the number of signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot to 2% of registered voters instead of the current standard (5% of voters who voted in the last mayoral election). According to the San Francisco Department of Elections, 5% of voters from the 2019 mayoral election was approximately 9,000 voters, while 2% of all registered voters was approximately 10,000. Because the number of registered voters tends to remain stable (between 450,000 and 500,000 over the past decade), this change is designed to keep the number of signatures required for initiatives roughly the same through each election cycle.
After questionnaires from 350 city clerks around California documented lower voter turnout for local elections, researchers argued that changing the timing to be concurrent with statewide or federal elections was an easy way to increase voter turnout.
In 2015, the California State Legislature passed voter participation legislation (SB 415), which aimed to address low voter turnout at local elections by requiring local elections to coincide with state or federal elections in even-numbered years. Common Cause California surveyed 54 cities that changed their local elections to even-numbered years after SB 415 was passed and found that these cities saw an increase in voter turnout for local elections.
However, a court case in Southern California prevented this bill from applying to charter cities. Charter cities, including San Francisco, allow voters to determine how their city government is organized and can adopt legislation that differs from state law. Typically, local law supersedes state law in charter cities. Other California charter cities — including San José, Los Angeles and San Diego — have changed their mayoral elections to coincide with presidential elections.
Currently, mayoral elections occur in odd-numbered years, and the number of voters who turned out to those elections determines the number of signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot. If Prop. H passes, the number of people voting in a mayoral election would likely rise. In order to prevent a large increase in the number of signatures needed to place an initiative on the ballot, this measure would change the signature threshold from 5% of voters from the last mayoral election to 2% of all registered voters. Since total voter registrations in San Francisco are less subject to wide fluctuations than the number of people voting in mayoral elections, this proposed change would likely hold the signature requirements at their current levels.
This measure was introduced by Supervisor Dean Preston and was approved for the ballot by seven members of the Board of Supervisors. It requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
Low-income people, people of color and younger Californians typically vote less regularly than others in the state, especially in local elections. About half of San Francisco’s residents are people of color, and 10% are considered to live in poverty. Switching local election years to the same years as presidential elections has been proven to increase turnout, including among low-income people and people of color. The more low-income people and people of color participate in elections, the more the election outcome represents the priorities of the city’s population as a whole.
- Increased voter turnout would mean that San Francisco voters are more representative of city residents as a whole.
- Changing election years would save the City of San Francisco money in odd-numbered years. The net savings would be $6.9 million in fiscal year 2023–2024.
- People of color and low-income people in San Francisco are more likely to vote for mayor and other citywide positions if those elections are moved to even-numbered years. Increasing the participation of these voters would increase the likelihood that they vote for policies that reflect their needs and aspirations.
- Ballots for consolidated elections could be longer and more burdensome to voters who have limited time or education on measures or candidates.
- Voters and news outlets might have less time to consider the merits of various candidates standing for citywide office during the same years as the presidential contest.
- Elected officials affected by this measure (the current mayor, district attorney, sheriff, city attorney and treasurer) would get more time in office than San Francisco voters originally voted for.
- General obligation bonds, which require voter approval and fund capital projects such as parks or housing, are pre-scheduled. Consolidating elections could affect the bond schedule if particularly low turnout is expected in odd-numbered years and city officials opt to postpone putting a bond on the ballot. This could delay funding for important projects.
- Even-year ballots would likely have higher voter turnout and generate more publicity, making them more desirable for city departments and bond programs that require voter approval. Consolidating elections might create more competition for voter attention among multiple projects.
Increasing voter turnout is a complicated issue without a single solution. Research has shown that adjusting local elections to even-numbered years, which often have a higher voter turnout, can be a simple way of ensuring that more voters are able to have their voices heard in local decisions.
Low-income people and people of color in San Francisco could be better represented in even-year elections because historically they have turned out in higher numbers during these elections. Due to the potential for better representation of San Francisco voters and the cost savings, this measure deserves support.
 Zoltan L. Hajnal, Paul G. Lewis and Hugh Louch, Municipal Elections in California: Turnout, Timing, and Competition, Public Policy Institute of California, 2002, https://www.ppic.org/wp-content/uploads/content/pubs/report/R_302ZHR.pdf.
 California Legislative Information, Bill Text, SB-415 Voter Participation, September 1, 2015, https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201520160SB415.
 Alvin Valverde Meneses and Eric Spencer, Consolidation of Elections in California Creates Massive
Gains in Local Voter Turnout, California Common Cause, February 2021, https://www.commoncause.org/california/resource/consolidation-of-electi….
 League of California Cities, “Charter Cities,” https://www.calcities.org/home/resources/charter-cities.
 See note 1.
 U.S. Census Bureau, “QuickFacts: San Francisco County, California,” July 1, 2021, https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/sanfranciscocountycalifornia.
 See note 3.
 ONESF, San Francisco Office of Resilience and Capital Planning, “Debt Programs,” https://onesanfrancisco.org/the-plan-2020/capital-sources-debt-programs.