Conventional wisdom holds that election activity begins after Labor Day.
But by Labor Day, a majority of voters will already have made up their minds about the charter amendments, ballot measures and other “down ballot” issues lacking the high profile of a mayor’s election or a contested sheriff’s race.
The true San Francisco campaign – one that sets the table for what follows – will all be completed in August.
That’s because by the third week of August, all the important decisions about the Voter Handbook will be complete. With a significant percentage of voters casting early or absentee ballots, the Voter Handbook is the most important campaign material they will have.
If activists, partisans and community members hope to bring their neighbors to share their preferences, here is the CitiReport Guide and Calendar.
Bragging Rights on Signatures: July 26
Candidates have until July 26 to file in-lieu petitions in order to pay for all or part of their filing fee with qualified voters. This can turn into a competition among candidates to demonstrate enthusiasm for them.
Charter Amendments and Bond Measures: July 27
The 5 p.m. deadline is drop-dead serious and failure by even a minute can result in the elimination of a charter or bond measure. However, the Director of Elections to accept one charter amendment or bond measure one week later.
Ballot Language: July 30-August 13
Elections have been won (and lost) based on how the Ballot Simplification Committee describes what the measure will do. The committee has an open process, accepts testimony at its meetings, and votes in public on the wording that will appear in the Voter Handbook.
They begin meeting in just two weeks – on July 30. They have two weeks to complete their work, by August 13.
Ordinances and Declarations of Policy: August 3
This is the deadline for the Board of Supervisors to submit ordinances and declarations of policy. If the proposals were submitted just by the mayor or by four supervisors, then the deadline was six weeks earlier – June 19.
Voluntary Campaign Spending Limits: August 6
This is the deadline for candidates to inform Ethics if their will accept or reject the voluntary spending limit. This sets the stage for whether candidates plan on outspending competitors (although independent expenditure groups can substantially tilt the playing field).
Tax Rate Statement Due: August 10
Most years this is not a factor, but if a bond or tax measure is placed on the ballot – and it will be this year –this is the date when the tax rate schedule is public.
District 7 Filing Deadline: August 11-15
Because Sean Elsbernd is termed out and thus no incumbent is running in District 7, there are an additional five days for candidates to file for the District 7 seat.
City Attorney’s Questions: August 13
This is the last day for the City Attorney to submit to the Department of Elections ballot statements or questions for local measures. This is also the deadline for the Ballot Simplification Committee to submit digests of each measure to be submitted. Many voters look no further than this to decide on how to cast a ballot.
Controller’s Cost: August 13
The City Controller provides an estimate of the impact on the measure on city costs. The Controller can determine there is no cost, there is a potential for reduced costs, and there could be increased costs.
Partisans and community members can advance their arguments on the cost to the Controller, but the decision process is behind closed door.
The Controller’s deadline is August 13 – the same deadline day as the Ballot Simplification Committee
While the process is underway for Ballot descriptions and costs, the Elections Department will determine in what order measures will appear on the ballot. Charter amendments and bond measures are first, and then come the proposed ordinances and policy statements.
The deadline for assigning a ballot number is August 6. That matters because some voters never get to the last on the list, so appearing at the head of the list likely will generate more votes.
Public Comment and Review: August 12-24
From noon until noon during this ten-day period, the public can comment on the Ballot Simplification Committee’s digest of ballot measures, the Controller’s analysis of cost impact, and any questions that have been posed by the City Attorney regarding these measures.
This is the ten-day period for the community and interested parties to critique, complain and cajole officials for further revisions. If the initiative regarding 8 Washington makes it to the ballot, this is where the war will begin.
Candidate Order on the Ballot: August 16
Candidates will be placed on the ballot based on the results of randomized alphabet drawing by the Secretary of State. Generally candidates at the top of the list do best, but not always.
Pro and Con Ballot Arguments: August 16
Official arguments for and against measures are due just three days after the Controller and Ballot simplification committee have completed their work.
August 16, a Thursday, is the deadline for official arguments. The Controller’s numbers and ballot language is due on Monday, August 13, which leaves just the Tuesday, August 14 Board meeting to decide on the official arguments (although as a tradition, City Hall is allowed to hold back on one measure until later in the process).
If more than one “official” argument is submitted, the Director of Elections will select the one to be used based on a city law that gives priority to city officials, then the public.
The public gets a chance to challenge the arguments until August 27.
Paid Arguments: August 20
Paid arguments are due the following Monday, August 20. These are from political clubs, partisans, campaign committees, the Democratic Central Committee – any group or individual who wants voters to know what they think is at stake.
It’s not difficult to see from this calendar that early August is when most political clubs will have to vote on endorsements, in order to have a paid ballot argument.
They will also have to get out their checkbooks, because a paid ballot argument costs $200 plus $2 for each word. That cost can be defrayed to some extent by gathering signatures in lieu of payment, at 50 cents for each signature. Paid signature gatherers are permitted.
Voters can get an idea of just how deep the pockets are for some campaigns by glancing at the bottom of the paid arguments to see who paid. Typically well-funded campaigns will round up citizens and groups they believe are influential with voters and pay for them to place a paid argument in the handbook – and often writing their opinion for them as well.
Withdrawal from the Election: August 31
This is the last day for local candidates to withdraw.
Write-In Candidates: September 10-October 23
That’s right – a write in candidate can file right up until days before the election. Does that ever happen? Yes, it can – as then-Supervisor Ammiano proved. But it’s a high bar, and unless the popular candidate is suddenly forced out of the race for whatever reason, don’t look for it to happen this November.
One point: The Board may well be voting on the Official Misconduct charges against Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi during this period. While a vote either way is unlikely to be definitive for any candidate (except perhaps Supervisor Christine Olague appointed to Mirkarimi’s Board seat), there certainly are political players in the mix who would dangle the possibility of a write-in opponent as a threat for certain supervisors. If that happens, it may not change any votes but could stain City Hall even further than this process already has.
First Day to Vote: October 8
And the votes now can be cast. In the last several elections, early votes and absentee votes swung the election. This means that a get-out-the-vote effort is critical. It also means that campaign mail, promotion of endorsements and all the strategic considerations should be in play. More than one candidate and ballot measure has discovered, after losing the election, that their campaign mail showed up after the election was over. Awkward!
Last Day to Register to Vote: October 22
If you didn’t find your voters among those already registered, best hustle out and get a strong voter registration drive underway. It’s also a good idea not to approach the Election Department to set up early voting and registration efforts based on selective (discriminatory) criteria, like neighborhoods that are heavily populated by one race or one party. The Secretary of State really, really frowns on this – although it has been done and escaped sanctions in the past.
One thing more: if you are a brand new American, you will have until November 6 to register if you were sworn in after October 22. This is not a get-in-free for new residents, just new citizens.
Early Voting Begins at City Hall: October 27-28
It’s the weekend before the election, and voting booths will be open from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. both Saturday and Sunday.
Election Day: November 7
Polls open at 7 a.m. and close at 8 p.m.
Ethics Drops Candidate Disclosure on Spending Limits
In past elections, candidates also had an asterisk with their name in the Voter Handbook indicating they accepted the voter-approved spending limits and public financing. This time, however, no such notification will appear. The city’s Ethics Commission decided it was too much trouble to provide this information to the Election’s Department in a timely manner, and won approval to strike the requirement.
(Information from the San Francisco Department of Elections)