A union-backed initiative that would have aligned San Jose’s mayoral races with the presidential election cycle has fallen 2,248 signatures short of making it on the November ballot, sources tell San Jose Inside.
The measure, dubbed the Fair Election Initiative, needed 69,024 valid signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot. But a random sample review of signatures by the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters (ROV) deemed 1,183 of the 2,826 names invalid.
Soon after the review was complete, the county’s top election official, ROV Shannon Bushey, admitted to errors that caused her to miss at least 87 valid signatures, which would have met a threshold that required the city to conduct a full count.
In April, the ROV filed a lawsuit against San Jose City Clerk Toni Taber asking for a full recount of the nearly 100,000 signatures. Labor leaders also accused Taber of misplacing thousands of signatures. A month later, a judge ordered the city to conduct a full recount that was estimated to cost up to $1 million.
During the full count, the ROV invalidated 27,423 of the 94,199 signatures collected.
“It is clear from the nearly 100,000 signatures we gathered and polling data that there’s overwhelming public support to get special interest money out of politics and increase voter participation,” South Bay Labor Council Executive Officer Ben Field said in a news release after San Jose Inside broke the story. Since the beginning of this campaign, the city clerk has mishandled the petition and the Registrar of Voters miscounted signatures. In the historical moment we are living, we need to amplify democracy, not keep rolling out bureaucratic failures that hold us back. The City Council should do the right thing, place the Fair Elections Initiative on the ballot and let the people of San Jose decide for themselves if they want to keep big money out of politics and uplift democracy.”
The Silicon Valley Organization, which previously accused Bushey of bowing to labor’s political pressure, wasn’t surprised that the measure fell short.
“The voters in the city of San Jose are intelligent and well-informed,” President and CEO Matt Mahood said. “I am certain that once they read the fine print, they realized that this measure should have actually been called the ‘unfair’ elections initiative. I think the voters realized that this proposed ballot measure was a power grab by labor so we are glad to see that it did not qualify for the November ballot.”
The Fair Elections Initiative first became a point of contention between labor and business leaders at the end of 2018 when Councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco, Sergio Jimenez, Don Rocha and Chappie Jones proposed the idea of changing the election cycle in order to increase voter turnout. Between 1980 and 2018, 13 percent more voters on average participated in the presidential general election compared to the gubernatorial general election, according to city data.
Last April, the San Jose City Council voted 6-5 against placing the proposal on the ballot, prompting a union coalition led by the South Bay Labor Council to gather thousands of signatures in an attempt to qualify on their own. Besides swapping the mayoral election year, the measure would have also barred San Jose candidates from accepting donations from lobbyists, anyone who benefits from city contracts of $250,000 or more and for-profit developers.
Garrick Percival, who is a political science professor at San Jose State and supporter of the Fair Elections Initiative, told San Jose Inside that the measure’s disqualification is a “lost opportunity.”
“There’s a lot of angst in our society and so this would have been not one that’s a first solution that would jump out of this trying to boost participation, but it adds to the legitimacy of what our government does and it encourages the mayor to listen to concerns,” he said.
This is a breaking news story, check back for updates.