By Lauren Poteat, NNPA Staff Writer
Despite major concerns with the 2016 voter turnouts, which played a significant role in the contentious election of President Donald Trump, primary elections in the heart of San Francisco, still proved to be a major flop in voter participation — even in the face of a very historic mayor’s race.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, though the Department of Elections issued more than 320,000 mail-in ballots, by Tuesday afternoon, fewer than 80,000 had been returned, making that number lower than in previous elections — including some primary races.
In addition, it was also stated that out of those 80,000 ballots, two-thirds came from voters age 50 and older, showing that millennials this go around, were once again lackluster in voter participation and polls.
Still, San Francisco’s first female and Black American City Administrator — the highest-ranking non-elected official of San Francisco City and County government, Naomi Maria Kelly, stressed the importance of voting.
“We’ve worked too hard to have the right to vote,” Kelly said. “Voting does count. If you don’t vote you’ll end up with a President that you don’t agree with…. You’ll end up with a Governor or Mayor that you disagree with… Even if you are not thinking on a large-scale level, just the day to day issues that impact you, like an intersection that doesn’t have a stop sign, or a neighborhood that needs a street light, requires voting and that is where your vote starts to matter.”
Focused on cultivating millennial support, Board of Supervisors President London Breed — the city’s top pick for mayor and potentially the first Black female to hold such office, gave way to a special phone bank on the eve of elections, that took place at her campaign headquarters located at 1000 Van Ness Ave., in order to encourage voter participation across the city, no matter the outcome.
“Many of my campaign staff and all of our Fellows are millennials, who are committed to actively participating in the future of our city. Our campaign has registered hundreds of new voters just in the past couple of months, many of whom just turned 18,” Breed said.
“One of the greatest attributes of millennials is their willingness to challenge convention, to push back on conventional thinking, to find solutions on the hardest issues we face as a city… So don’t ever think your voices don’t matter. You have to get out and vote and be the change that people want to see and I’m an example of that.”
Supporting Breed in her efforts to win as mayor, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, (D-CA 13-District), who lent a helping hand with the phone bank also encouraged millennials to vote.
“Now is your turn,” Congresswoman Lee said. “Don’t just wait for somebody else to do it. You have to get out and vote. Be that difference. Use your voices and let them heard.”
Just hours before election night, young and old residents particularly people of color, were seen wearing bright sunny yellow t-shirts that read “Vote for London Breed” on the historically Black Street of Fillmore, while asking people if they had a chance to vote yet in a city whose population had significantly dwindled to just below seven percent Black since the 1970s.
With a diminishing Black population, a large economic divide and almost no affordable housing left, San Francisco native, Rachael Tanner, a millennial voter advocate, was overwhelmed by the idea of younger residents not voting.
“If you think your vote doesn’t count then make it. If you think the man is in control then overthrow him. We have a lot of ways to make a difference, voting is just one and so I would encourage people to vote,” Tanner said.
“But let’s be clear, if you’re not involved beyond voting, then you probably are going to be disappointed. If you only vote once every four years and sit back and don’t call your elected officials, call your supervisor or congress person, then you’re doomed for downfall.”
However, even with the many voting efforts, San Francisco polls indicated a large gap between undecided voters just days before the election, which political consultant John Whitehurst said was due to a lack of clarity between candidates.
“The lack of clarity between the candidates on issues is frankly putting a lot of voters to sleep,” political consultant, John Whitehurst said in a statement. “We’re seeing a difference in political posturing, but not on the issues.”
Still, longtime Sun Reporter Publisher Amelia Ashley-Ward disagreed, emphasizing that people who don’t vote, don’t understand their power.
“I know the power that I have as a voter and as a member of the Black Press,” Ashley-Ward said. “There was a time when people of color weren’t allowed to vote, so now in 2018, what do you mean that you didn’t?”
“In fact, the Sun Reporter was one of those publications that helped to launch U.S. California Senator Kamala Harris and Breed’s campaigns. We reach and talk to people of color like no other and community engagement and voting go hand in hand.”
In the hot button mayor’s ticket race, candidates also included Board of Supervisors member Jane Kim, who ran to become the city’s first Asian mayor and former state Sen. Mark Leno, who ran as the city’s first openly gay mayor.