ADVOCACY MEMO – Get out and vote!

Everybody counts

First off, before you do anything else, you can register to vote or check and verify your registration status here: Register to Vote.

It is worth double-checking your registration as this year, due to Covid-19, California will be automatically sending all registered voters vote-by-mail ballots for the November 3, 2020 election. If you are already registered, you do not have to apply to receive a vote-by-mail ballot; it will be sent to you either way! If you would like to become a permanent vote-by-mail voter, you can re-register at the link provided above and choose to receive all future ballots via mail.

After you have filled out your ballot, insert your ballot in the envelope provided and make sure you complete all required information on the envelope. Vote-by-mail ballots must be postmarked on or before Election Day and received by your county elections office no later than 17 days after Election Day.

Given the constraints and increased demands on USPS and election officials this year, it is recommended that people mail their ballots as soon as possible to ensure they are counted. To be safe, aim to mail your ballot at least a couple days, if not a full week, before November 3.

You can find all the necessary information about the upcoming election here.

You can now also track your vote-by-mail ballot—when it is mailed, received, and counted—through the California Secretary of State’s website. This is a new way for voters to track and receive notifications on the status of their vote-by-mail ballot.

Sign-up at using the name, birthday, and zip code provided for your voter registration to receive automatic email, SMS (text), or voice call notifications about your ballot.

Lastly, Take the 2020 Census. It is paramount that everybody is counted in the Census. This is the first Census to be completed online. They’ve made it easy and quick; should take no more than 5 minutes to fill out!  This not only provides a comprehensive view of the population number and demographics of our country, but this also determines representation in the U.S. House and key automatic funding formulas for housing, education, transportation, and other essential public services. 

Why Vote-by-Mail

Voting by mail is the safest way to conduct the upcoming election given the ever-present reality and threat of Covid-19.

California, Vermont, and Washington, D.C. have all changed their vote-by-mail operations to automatically send ballots to registered voters due to Covid-19. They join Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Hawaii and Utah who had already been automatically sending ballots to registered voters before Covid.

Contrary to the claims of certain elected officials, vote-by-mail is not rife with fraud and abuse. In fact, according to the Washington Post, the number of fraudulent vote-by-mail ballots is negligible, or almost non-existent. Vote-by-mail has just as many safeguards and redundancies used to protect the vote that vote-in-person processes do. Nor is this a traditionally partisan issue. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have conducted statewide mail elections for decades and more states, controlled by both Republicans and Democrats, have been expanding their vote-by-mail options. In Oregon and Washington, nearly all voters vote-by-mail. In Montana, Arizona, and Utah, 60 to 80 percent of all voters vote-by-mail.

In the past two decades, Republicans and Democrats alike have embraced absentee and mail ballots as a way to make voting easier, expand participation, and lower election costs. That second point is key: vote-by-mail is a relatively easy and effective way to expand the vote, increase inclusivity, and help folks, especially those who do not traditionally vote or underserved populations that are historically disenfranchised and ignored in electoral politics, vote.

While the consensus between the two parties has begun to erode as partisan attacks have escalated against vote-by-mail efforts, the fact remains that voting by mail, while sometimes imperfect especially when inadequately funded and incorrectly administered, is one of the safest and surest ways to ensure your vote is counted. 

The U.S. has some of the lowest voter turnout rates compared to other “established” democracies. In 2016, 60 percent of the eligible voting population turned out to vote. This number is always much lower in non-presidential election years. In 2014, voter turnout was a dismal 36%. In 2018, that increased to 50%. That means that millions of eligible voters, and in some cases a majority of eligible voters, do not vote. This is why reforms to make the process easier, more expansive, more inclusive, and more equitable are greatly needed. 

What About People Experiencing Homelessness

Yes, you can vote if you are unhoused. Thanks to years of advocacy from service providers and people experiencing homelessness demanding their political rights, it is now possible to put a “cross street,” a shelter, or a public park on one’s application instead of an address. This ensures that folks who are experiencing homelessness retain their fundamental right to vote.

Unfortunately, people experiencing homelessness will not automatically receive a vote-by-mail ballot unless they have a place to collect mail; to compensate for this, Californians who may need access to in-person voting opportunities – including individuals with disabilities, individuals who speak languages other than English, individuals experiencing homelessness, and others – will still be able to access in-person voting locations.

Major Ballot Measures in November

We thought it would be important to highlight two statewide propositions and two San Francisco propositions that you will see on your ballot (if you are a San Francisco voter; the city/county propositions will depend on where you are registered to vote).


It is easy to forget given California’s contemporary political landscape that in the 1980s and 1990s, our state was a leader for some of the more regressive and racist policies that took hold across the country. This included rolling back affirmative action, excluding undocumented immigrants from public services, and prohibiting bilingual education.

Proposition 16

Proposition 16, passed overwhelmingly by the State Senate and Assembly, would amend the California constitution and repeal the ban, passed in 1996, on affirmative action. This would allow schools and public agencies to take race and other immutable characteristics into account when making admission, hiring or contracting decisions in an effort to bring about greater racial equity.

Read more about its importance and history here: ‘A failed experiment’: the racist legacy of California governor Pete Wilson

Proposition 17

As we’ve discussed, people who are incarcerated lose their right to vote (a notion itself that we can perhaps question; Vermont and Maine are the only two states that do not strip the right to vote away from people who are incarcerated). Moreover, some states do not even return the right to vote for people who exit prison and finish their parole. While that is not the case for California, currently, folks who are still on parole cannot vote. There are approximately 40,000 Californians who are not in prison but are unable to legally cast a ballot. According to one estimate, two thirds of people on parole in the state are Latinx or Black. Proposition 17 would allow Californians who are currently on parole to vote, thus granting suffrage to thousands of folks, disproportionately people of color, who have completed their prison sentences. 

You can find a clear and concise list of all the statewide ballot measures that will be subject to your vote in the November election here. This article also offers a clear guide detailing how a ballot measure gets onto your ballot…Pretty neat!

There are other really important measures on the ballot, so be sure to check them out before the November election so you can decide for yourself and with the best information how you want to cast your vote!

San Francisco

There are a lot of impactful measures on the San Francisco ballot this year. It includes everything ranging from housing, homelessness, rent relief, police staffing, a new department to oversee street cleaning and sanitation, and taxes on companies with exorbitant executive pay. We won’t elaborate on each one, but you can familiarize yourself with them at the SF Department of Elections website here and read brief summaries about each measure.

Affordable Housing Authorization

Thanks to a constitutional amendment (Article 34) to the California Constitution, any low-income and low-rent housing development and construction must be authorized by voters of a specified jurisdiction, like the City and County of San Francisco. Mind you, this requirement does not exist for market-rate housing; this article has exacerbated socioeconomic and racial segregation and inequality across the state by making it much more difficult to build low-income housing.

This proposition would authorize the City and County of San Francisco to own, develop, construct, acquire, or rehabilitate up to 10,000 affordable rental units, sometimes referred to as municipal housing. This would allow San Francisco to provide housing directly to people with no, low, and moderate incomes as opposed to the more traditional model of affordable housing procurement requiring developers to set aside a certain percentage of below market-rate units, which in San Francisco can mean the units are still quite expensive while a major shortage of affordable housing remains.

Business Tax Reform Measure

On the surface, it would not seem like a business tax reform would be very pertinent for our work. Turns out, this one really is! This measure would unlock the Proposition C funds that voters approved in November, 2018, and begin allocating that money for homelessness and mental health support. This money will also support the Mayor’s Homeless Recovery Plan which will continue emergency homelessness response initiatives in the short-term and make 6,000 shelter and permanent supportive housing placements available over the next two years for people experiencing homelessness.

Per our last memo, the exact details of the Mayor’s Recovery Plan are still not entirely clear, but either way, this measure, in addition to a Bond introduced by both the Board of Supervisors and the Mayor, will dedicate expanded funding to provide services, housing, substance use treatment, and mental health care for our neighbors experiencing homelessness and poverty.

Updates on the San Francisco City Budget

On Friday, July 31, Mayor London Breed unveiled her proposed two-year budget. While it will now be deliberated upon and altered by the Board of Supervisors, we can highlight some of its major features:


  • The November 2020 Business Tax Reform measure will be used in part to implement the City’s Homelessness Recovery Plan. Through the Homeless Recovery Plan, the City will continue emergency homelessness response initiatives in the short-term and make 6,000 placements available over the next two years for people experiencing homelessness.
  • In addition to enabling the City to newly lease or acquire 1,500 permanent supportive housing units through the Homelessness Recovery Plan, the budget funds a significant expansion of newly constructed permanent supportive housing units.

Mental Health

  • The Mayor’s proposed budget supports the implementation of the first phase of Mental Health SF which will expand the City’s mental healthcare infrastructure and capacity.
  • Notably, the budget will fund the creation of a pilot non-law enforcement Crisis Response Team for engaging people on the street experiencing mental health or substance use-related crises.

Read more about the proposed budget here and here.