Time to be counted: city officials urge residents to register to vote

Even though it’s not a major election year, San Franciscans still have some important decisions to make this Nov. 5.

City officials reminded voters of the significance of the upcoming local election from the steps of City Hall Thursday, urging anyone who isn’t registered to vote to do so before Monday’s deadline.

SF Assessor Carmen Chu said that voter participation tends to dip in off-year elections, when there aren’t any state or federal contests on the ballot.

“Remember that it’s important not to just pay attention on those high turnout elections, but every single election, because they have consequences in terms of the things and policies that we pursue and the people that you put into place,” Chu said.

On Nov. 5, SF voters have the chance to cast ballots for their preferred candidate for mayor, District 5 supervisor, city attorney, district attorney, public defender, sheriff, treasurer, the Board of Education and the City College of San Francisco board. Six local and district measures will also appear on the ballot, including an affordable housing bond, a traffic congestion mitigation tax and a measure to regulate vaping products.

The contests for District 5 supervisor, public defender, the Board of Education and the CCSF seat appear on the ballot due to vacancies that were filled by appointment. Now it’s on voters to elect someone to serve each role for the remainder of the current term.

“Our local elections are where people’s votes can have the most impact on public policy. For example, voters passed two huge propositions last year to fund child care and homelessness services,” Public Defender Manohar Raju said. “Some elections will be decided by a handful of votes, so it is crucial that people exercise their right to vote.”

Department of Elections Director John Arntz said his department is anticipating a turnout of about 50-55% of registered voters, based on previous local elections.

“That’s what we set for a baseline turnout, just to get a sense of where we are as far as how we set staffing plans and organize our resources,” Arntz said.

There are about 497,000 registered voters in San Francisco and a population of almost 900,000. Youth make up roughly 14% of the population, leaving a sizable swath of voting-age residents who have yet to register, District 10 Supervisor Shamann Walton said.

“You can see that there’s still a big gap in terms of how many people we need to make sure register to vote, even here in this city,” Walton said. “And that’s something that we have to stress continuously, not only when we get close to election time, but on a daily basis, because your vote is your voice. And I can’t express that enough, that your vote is your actual voice.”

Since first registering to vote at age 19, District 1 Supervisor Sandra Lee Fewer said she has never missed an election. Casting her ballot has always filled her with a sense of accomplishment and pride, and she implored others to take pride in their vote and their voice.

“If the 2016 election didn’t scare people, I don’t know what will,” she said. “It is time, people, to be counted.”

Those who miss the registration deadline can still register and vote by casting a conditional voter registration ballot. This can only be done at a designated voting center in the two-week period leading up to the election, as well as on election day. The two locations where voters can cast conditional voter registration ballots are the voting centers at City Hall and at San Francisco State University.

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