San Jose votes along racial divide not to change election cycle

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- "The power structure remains in place in the city of San Jose," says council member Magdalena Carrasco, who represents District 5.

Her comments come after a six to five loss at Tuesday's city council meeting on a motion to change the mayor's race to align with the presidential election cycle.

"The five, who lost the vote, were five people of color, who represent five communities, who have historically been disenfranchised," said Carrasco.

The goal was to increase voter turnout. Research shows that by moving the election, it would lead to a 13 percent increase in voter turnout. What's significant about that, activists say, is that the 13 percent would make up a demographic shift away from traditional voters, meaning more women, people of color and low-income residents casting ballots.

"Traditional voters tend to be homeowners, upper-middle class, white people," says Kimi Lee, with Bay Rising, a community group that seeks to increase voter turnout. "We are trying to shift that so that they can actually elect people who look like them to office."

But Mayor Sam Liccardo, Vice Mayor Chappie Jones and Councilmembers Lan Diep, Pam Foley, Johnny Khamis and Dev Davis, who voted against the measure, had concerns that the focus on national elections would trump local issues.

Furthermore, Mayor Liccardo says he didn't agree with all the numbers being cited.

"I think that much of the data that I see is piecemealing with regard to which elections they are referring too," he said during Tuesday's citing council meeting.

Liccardo prefers finding other ways to increase voter turnout.

During the discussion, activists spoke of the balance of power and institutional racism.

"The current system, in a way, favors certain people with certain interests," explains Garrick Percival, professor of political science at San Jose State University.

He believes voters do take time to learn about ballot issues. And if they don't show up to cast their vote, he thinks the city would have gained from the change.

"By moving it, we have the opportunity to really expand the participation, but should be no worse off than we are now," says Percival.

Council member Sergio Jimenez, District 2, also supports changing the election, saying that he wants the highest number of voters casting ballots for when picking the city's leader.

"We need to make it as easy as possible for people to come out and vote. So, if we know when people are voting, why not have the election that year?" says Jimenez.

Carassuco says, despite the loss, the issue has generated discussion on San Jose's changing demographics and the need for increased voter turnout. To that end, the city will allocate money for programs to increase voter engagement. They expect a plan and a budget in place within the next six months.

"The mayor is listening, others are listening, and starting to hear what the conversation is about, and what community is saying," says Carrassco. "It's just the beginning."
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