Proposed changes to San Jose city elections

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In the capitol of Silicon Valley, various community groups and elected officials are supporting a union-backed measure they say will put block special interest money in politics and increase voter turnout.

"We have an unrepresented demographic out there that just can't get in because of the financial barrier to running for office," said Santa Clara County supervisor Dave Cortese. "This doesn't eliminate that, but it's a step in the right direction."

The "fair elections initiative" would prohibit candidates for San Jose city council or mayor from accepting contributions from developers, landlords, and the lobbyists who represent them, among others. It would also move mayoral races from gubernatorial to presidential election years.

"The practice of holding elections in off years is historically rooted in suppressing voter turnout and restricting access to the ballot," said San Jose city councilmember Maya Esparza.

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Only one-third of registered voters in San Jose cast a ballot in the city's last mayoral election. Political science experts believe turnout could increase by 30 to 35 percent if voters approve the switch.

"Most people are very busy, especially younger people, people working multiple jobs and you know with the smaller elections, primary elections, local elections, you know they just don't give it the same level of attention," said San Jose State University political science professor Melinda Jackson. "Having the mayoral election during a presidential year, we know is going to increase voter turnout, because people are already turning out to vote for the president."

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However, the Silicon Valley Organization, which operates as the region's main chamber of commerce, believes noise from presidential elections could drown out local issues.

"This is a power play by labor unions to change the rules so that they can get more voters to participate in certain elections," said Eddie Truong, the SVO's director of government and community relations.

Scott Knies, executive director of the San Jose Downtown Business Association, says the measure would give union-backed candidates an unfair advantage.

"San Jose voters see through these self-dealing initiatives," said Knies. "It is a devious measure to benefit and enrich the unions."

Proponents have until the spring to collect approximately 70,000 signatures to get the initiative on the November 2020 ballot.
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