Voter Suppression in San Francisco

Some years ago, before I moved back to Africa, the local ballot in San Francisco had a measure to allow non-citizens to vote in school board elections. At the time, I thought it was another prank proposition like naming the water treatment facility the, “George W. Bush Sewage Treatment Plant”. So, as was my habit, I ridiculed the idea in my weekly commentary for Silicon Valley Bank.

When I returned home last year, I was surprised to discover that, after two more tries, the ballot measure had passed! Now, non-citizens with school age children can vote in the school board elections. This week is their first opportunity to exercise their rights.

The logic of the measure is undeniable. These parents are invested in the school system by trusting their children’s education to the San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD). They are running a huge risk – the same one I endured for an aggregate 32 years with my kids. They should have a voice.

What I found a bit distressing is that these new voters had registration requirements significantly more stringent than your average San Franciscan. It seems a clear case of discrimination and perhaps the beginning of a pattern of voter suppression.

One could argue, I suppose, that in the past these voters were completely suppressed, as it was illegal for them to vote at all. Perhaps this is the first step towards suffrage rights on par with actual citizens.

If challenged, which would never happen, as there is no quality control in the voting process in San Francisco, they need to prove the following:

  • Resident of San Francisco and do not plan to move before November 6, 2018
  • At least 18 years old on November 6, 2018
  • Parent, legal guardian, or caregiver of a child under 19 living in San Francisco
  • Not in state or federal prison, or on parole for the conviction of a felony
  • Not currently found mentally incompetent to vote by a court

Following these same criteria, why should citizen non-parents be allowed to vote for school board? Or even better, why should parents with kids in private schools be allowed to vote for the SFUSD school board? They have already abandoned the system inflicting financial damage by reducing the state funding for district schools that depends on the number of enrolled students.

More broadly, what if all voters were restricted to voting only for the ballot measures that affected them directly?

Sales tax increases (has there ever been a decrease?) affect everyone so that would be universal, appearing on every ballot. But suppose property tax measures appeared only on the ballots of property owners? A millionaire tax could only be enacted by the votes of millionaires, for example.

Clearly this would invert our entire system of public financing, which depends on a core policy precept expressed by Russell B. Long, Senator from Louisiana, in 1973, “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me, tax that fellow behind the tree.”

The city spent $300,000, to encourage non-citizens to vote. Unfortunately, only 49 have accepted the responsibility according to the San Francisco Chronicle. That amounts to $6,122.45, per vote. A bit pricey I would say.

What went wrong? The fine print of the registration documents contains this warning:

“Any information you provide to the Department of Elections, including your name and address, may be obtained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other agencies, organizations, and individuals.”

I cannot imagine a better way to discourage non-citizen residents from voting, especially those that are here illegally.

Finally, it is important to recognize that all this effort is essentially pointless as the school board and even school administrators have precious little influence on how the schools actually operate day-to-day.

If we want to give non-citizen and citizen parents real power over their children’s education we would give them the right to vote for the leadership of the San Francisco Federation of Teachers, Local 61.