By Ann Marie Galvan
It’s been a busy election year for San Francisco. Three members of the San Francisco Board of Education were recalled in February after what some claimed to be a mishandling of the public school system during the COVID-19 shutdowns, when the board focused on renaming schools instead of reopening them and ended the merit-based admissions system to prestigious Lowell High School (which is now back in effect). This recall saw 36 percent voter turnout.
Months later, Matt Haney won the April special election for the 17th Assembly District seat over David Campos, an election that saw 29.31 percent of San Francisco voters turn in a ballot.
The following June, District Attorney Chesa Boudin was recalled following a recall campaign fraught with fear mongering and led by venture capitalists and billionaires, who claimed that the former D.A.’s policies were too soft on crime. Boudin was recalled with only 25.8 percent of registered voter participation.
Historically, midterm elections in the U.S. have lower voter turnout than primary elections, and the elections San Francisco has seen this year have followed the same trend. However, the upcoming November midterm election includes propositions vital to the future of San Francisco (and California) and voting has become more important than ever.
On the ballot for California is Proposition 1, the Right to Reproductive Freedom Amendment. This proposition establishes the right to an abortion and the right to choose or refuse contraception. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade in June, the amendment would protect those seeking abortions, and protect the care providers who perform them.
This measure ensures that abortion and birth control rights cannot be modified without voter approval and stands in stark contrast to measures introduced by other states. Missouri, for example, was trying to legally prosecute people for seeking abortions out of state.
Abortion bans and restrictive reproductive health care disproportionally impact people of color and the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Wade harms everyone, but particularly Black and Brown communities who already struggle with equitable health care access. Codifying reproductive rights in California is pivotal.
In San Francisco we’re voting for a new district attorney. After Boudin’s recall, Mayor London Breed appointed former prosecutor Brooke Jenkins to replace him, and Jenkins is in the running for the D.A. seat again. Jenkins has vowed to be “tougher” on crime than Boudin and has placed emphasis on drug-related crimes, particularly those involving fentanyl and overdose deaths.
But Jenkins announced new drug policies in the city that perpetuate the war on drugs, and in September she said she wants drug dealers who are linked to overdose deaths involving fentanyl to be tried for murder. Criminalizing drug use and possession doesn’t work to prevent overdose deaths. These sort of drug-induced homicide laws arrest street distributors, and often the people dealing on the street aren’t the major drug traffickers the D.A.’s office hopes to arrest.
Arrests will increase with policies of the sort that Jenkins proposes, yes. A 2017 media-based study by the Drug Policy Alliance of drug-induced homicide arrests showed an arrest increase of over 300 percent — from 363 to 1,178. But there is no empirical evidence to suggest that these laws reduce overdose deaths. Rather, it’s been found that overdose deaths have even increased in states that follow such policies.
Safe injection sites do prevent overdose deaths. A 2021 Vancouver-based study found that a supervised safe injection site reduced overdose deaths by 26 percent and also saw a decrease in the area’s crime. Governor Gavin Newsom’s veto of Senate Bill 57, which authorized overdose prevention pilot programs and safe injection sites, was a huge loss for California.
Voting in the midterm election is important. While it’s become somewhat of a cliché to say that every vote matters, it’s true. And the upcoming midterm election is about more than just voting for people or representatives. It’s about significant, enduring issues that impact all of California, as well as our city. San Francisco deserves better.