By the end of 2022, San Jose voters could shift the city’s future mayoral elections to presidential years and potentially grant noncitizens who live in the city the right to cast a vote on upcoming ballots.
In a 10-1 vote, the San Jose City Council voted Tuesday night to move forward with a measure on the June 7, 2022 ballot that will ask voters to shift the city’s mayoral races from midterm election years to presidential election years beginning in 2024. The move, which has been a years-in-the-making effort, will help boost voter turnout and improve representation in the city’s mayoral contests, according to advocates.
“This has been a long time coming,” said councilwoman Maya Esparza. “Our current system was designed to suppress votes — it was designed to suppress certain kinds of votes and enable other votes.”
City leaders also agreed to study potential additional ballot measures for November’s election, including a contentious proposal that the city extend voting rights for local races to noncitizens, such as undocumented immigrants and legal noncitizens who are green card holders or have the right to study or work in the U.S.
Councilwoman Dev Davis voted against both shifting the mayoral election and exploring an extension of voting rights to noncitizens, saying that she didn’t think it was the “fair or correct thing to do.”
If the June 2022 ballot measure is approved, San Jose’s next mayor, who will be elected this year, would initially serve a two-year term and then have the option to run for two additional four-year terms in 2024 and 2028, for a potential of up to 10 years in office.
Tuesday night’s City Council decisions follow months of work and lengthy public meetings held by the city’s Charter Review Commission, which was made up of a group of 23 residents appointed by the City Council to provide recommendations on potential changes to the city’s charter. The commission was formed after Mayor Sam Liccardo advocated for — and then abruptly abandoned — a “strong mayor” measure that could have potentially granted him considerably more power and two additional years in office.
The commission’s final report, which was presented Tuesday night, included 17 recommendations that range from expanding the number of seats on the city council from 10 to 14 districts to removing the citizenship requirement for board and commission members to public safety reforms such as creating a police commission and giving the city’s independent police auditor subpoena authority and full access to unredacted records.
The commission did not recommend that the city pursue a “strong mayor” style of government. They did not discuss the proposal to extend voting rights to noncitizens who live in San Jose.
The council will hold two study sessions in the coming months to try and narrow down which recommendations will make a future ballot measure. One meeting will be focused on the recommendations forwarded by the Charter Review Commission and another will center on expanding voting rights to noncitizens — a proposal that was suggested by councilmembers Magdalena Carrasco and Sylvia Arenas after the commission’s work wrapped up.
Across the U.S., more than a dozen municipalities currently allow non-citizens to vote in local elections. New York City earlier this month became the largest municipality in the country to allow legal residents who are not citizens to vote in all municipal elections, provided they are green card holders or have the right to work in the United States. San Francisco voters in 2016 approved a measure granting non-citizen parents the right to vote in school board elections.
Councilmembers Carrasco and Arenas, who are advocating for San Jose to join those other cities, say it would give a voice to those who have long been shut out of participating in the democratic process but who play an integral role in the community, including business owners, essential workers and consumers.
“Some of these folks have been here longer than our own councilmembers,” said Carrasco. “… It’s a fantastic thing to allow our residents to have a say so in their democratic process.”
Santa Clara County is home to nearly 366,600 noncitizens, the majority of which who are legal residents but are not citizens, such as green card holders or those have the right to study or work in the U.S., according to county records.
Dozens of residents who called in to support expanding the city’s voting rights Tuesday night said it would create a more “democratic,” “inclusive” and “racially just” city, arguing that it was unjust that immigrants are required to pay taxes but cannot sway local policies.
“Immigrants here have helped to build our city’s infrastructure and wealth but we have left so many of them without a vote in local decision that directly affect their lives,” said resident Nicholas Hurley.
Other residents, however, strongly opposed the last-minute proposal, calling it “ridiculous” and arguing that immigrants should be required to go through the appropriate citizenship process before earning their right to vote.
“I believe it’s an attempt to have foreigners take over our city,” said a resident named Brenda. “This is America — when you become a citizen, you get the right to vote.”
Throughout their discussion, several councilmembers expressed that the item had “brought out the worst in people,” noting that they’re inboxes had been flooded with “appalling” and racist emails pertaining to immigrants.