Limits the period of time when voters can recall an elected official and prohibits anyone appointed to a seat left vacant by a recall from running for that position in the following election.
Jump to SPUR’s Recommendation
What the Measure Would Do
Proposition C would require a San Francisco elected official to serve at least 12 months before voters could collect signatures to place a measure on the ballot to recall them from office. A recall vote asks voters whether the elected official should be removed from office or remain in office. Currently, the minimum is six months before an elected official is eligible for recall. This measure would also prevent voters from attempting to recall an official if that official is up for reelection within 18 months. This would limit voters’ ability to recall an elected official to eight and a half months of their four-year term.1
This measure would bar those appointed to fill vacancies after a recall from running for the seat they were appointed to. Instead, an appointee would serve as a caretaker of the seat until a new candidate was elected to the position.
In San Francisco, voters can collect signatures to trigger a recall election any time from six months after the official has taken office until six months before the end of their term. If any elected official other than the mayor is recalled, the mayor appoints their replacement. If the mayor is recalled, the Board of Supervisors appoints their replacement.
In the first half of 2022, San Francisco will have had two recall elections that could result in the recall of four elected officials. In the first of these elections in February 2022, voters recalled three members of the Board of Education. The mayor appointed replacements, who are eligible to run for that seat in the upcoming Board of Education contest. The timing of this recall triggered its own special election separate from regularly scheduled local and federal elections, which cost the City and County of San Francisco just over $3 million.2 Voters will also decide whether to recall the district attorney in the regularly scheduled June primary election.
Prop. C was introduced shortly before the Board of Education recalls and after the measure to recall the district attorney qualified for the June election. If the changes envisioned by Prop. C had been in place last year, they would have prevented the Board of Education recall, since it would have occurred within 18 months of the end of the board members’ terms. Should the voters recall the district attorney, this measure would prevent the person appointed to fill that vacancy from running for district attorney in the next election.
Supporters argue that Prop. C seeks to limit the number of recall elections that can take place to save the city the cost of administering recall elections. Over the past several years, the city has spent several million dollars on local recall elections. The Board of Education recall showed widespread support for voters’ ability to recall elected officials, even toward the end of their terms, with around one in six San Francisco voters signing the petition to place the recall on the ballot and nearly 80% of San Franciscans voting in favor of the recall.3
This measure also seeks to reduce the power of the appointing official, usually the mayor, by eliminating their ability to appoint an official who would then benefit from incumbency in their subsequent election. The benefits of incumbency for appointed officials are mixed, and banning appointees from running in the next election would be very unusual in California. The only example of a California local government that bans appointees from running for their seat is the Butte County Board of Education.
Prop. C was put on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors. As a charter amendment, it requires a simple majority (50% plus one vote) to pass.
We did not identify any meaningful equity impacts for this measure.
- Having fewer elections would save money that could be diverted to more effective changes in city services, though the savings would be limited.
- This measure reduces the power of the mayor to influence electoral outcomes by barring appointees from running for election as an incumbent.
- Appointed officials may feel more comfortable making governing decisions that might alienate special interests if they won’t be running for reelection.
- Prop. C’s reduced timeline for recall elections would limit voters’ ability to recall politicians who are corrupt or incompetent, which is an important part of the democratic process.
- Limiting caretaker appointees from running in the subsequent election could make it difficult to be effective during their short time in office.
San Francisco voters have seen more recall elections in the last two years than in decades past, raising the question of whether this political lever is being overused. But voter-initiated recalls of elected officials have an important place in the democratic process: Voters need a way to remove corrupt or incompetent leaders from office. This measure would result in an unreasonably short window — just eight and a half months within a four-year term — in which elected officials could be recalled, making it more difficult to initiate a recall for legitimate reasons. Additionally, Prop. C would bar those appointed to a vacant role from running in the subsequent election, which would limit them to a partial term and make it difficult for them to complete the duties of the role.
1 John Trasvina, “Perspective: Proposal to Limit SF Recall Elections Weakens Democracy,” The San Francisco Standard, February 10, 2022, https://sfstandard.com/perspectives/perspective-proposal-to-limit-sf-recall-elections-weakens-democracy/.
2 Ida Mojadad, “Who’s Going To Pay For the School Board Recall?,” San Francisco Examiner, December 17, 2021, https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/whos-going-to-pay-for-the-school-board-recall/.
3 Chris Cillizza, “What the San Francisco School Board Results Tell Us About 2022 (and What They Don’t),” CNN’s The Point, February 16, 2022, https://www.cnn.com/2022/02/16/politics/san-francisco-school-board-reca….