San Jose City Hall. (Photo courtesy of Wikipedia)

San Jose activists filed a ballot measure July 31 to shift the mayoral election schedule and increase voter turnout for minorities, three months after half of the City Council voted down the same initiative in an emotional, contentious debate over racism.

The “Fair Elections Initiative” will appear on the 2020 ballot if the group, comprised of the Asian Law Alliance, Silicon Valley Rising and community activists, collects about 40,000 signatures in the next month.

The ballot measure would align mayoral elections with presidential elections and prohibit “special interest” groups from donating to mayoral and City Council elections. These groups would include city contractors, large developers and landlords, but not unions. Activists say these groups benefit from a “pay-to-play” system in influencing elected leaders.

Councilman Sergio Jimenez, who voted in favor of the schedule change in April, said at a news conference July 31 that the current election system has led to the “abysmal statistic” of only two female mayors in the city’s 170-year history.

San Jose City Councilman Sergio Jimenez.

“For me, this initiative is going to be super important if we are to give a shot to every little girl in this city, to one day leading this city,” he said.

The “apolitical” initiative is common sense, Jimenez said, and one that would lead to higher voter turnout across the board.

Council members Jimenez, Magdalena Carrasco, Maya Esparza, Raul Peralez and Sylvia Arenas in April advocated for placing the proposal on the 2020 ballot. They said it would increase awareness of the election and bring historically disenfranchised voters to the polling booth.

Mayor Sam Liccardo argued moving the election would instead obscure local issues in the chaos of national politics, and decrease turnout for odd-numbered districts whose council members are currently selected in tandem with the mayor. Carrasco, Peralez and Esparza represent odd-numbered districts and disagreed with his claim.

With the latest  move to submit the ballot measure to the county clerk, local activists took the matter into their own hands.

Maria Noel Fernandez of Silicon Valley Rising.

“Our hope was that it would be figured out on the council level, but absent their leadership on it, we’re gonna take it to the people and hopefully have them be able to vote on it,” said Maria Noel Fernandez of Silicon Valley Rising.

The signature gathering process will be difficult, she added, but the coalition has run successful campaigns in the past, including those for affordable housing, part-time and minimum-wage workers.

City Clerk Toni Taber signed off on the groups’ documentation July 31 and said she was excited to watch the democratic process in action. She also urged the group to be careful in its signature gathering, and collect well above the required threshold, 8 percent of all registered voters.