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Politics & Policy

Elections to drastically change in San Francisco if ex-mayor gets his way

An elderly man in a blue suit and sweater stands by a wall, looking to the side pensively.
Former Mayor Frank Jordan stands for a portrait at San Francisco City Hall on Tuesday. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

A new campaign to radically alter local elections kicked off Tuesday morning with a retired judge and a former San Francisco mayor pitching a major overhaul of how supervisors are elected. 

The veteran political crew has a combined 255 years of life experience: Quentin Kopp, 95, is a retired San Mateo County judge, former state senator and San Francisco supervisor; Frank Jordan, 88, served as mayor in the 1990s; and Robert Guichard, 72, is a businessman. The group rallied Tuesday at City Hall to bring back citywide voting for the Board of Supervisors.

The trio of political veterans plans to gather signatures to place their proposal on the November ballot. If passed, the measure has the potential to reshape the city’s politics drastically. 

Three elderly men in suits are gathered in a room with classical architecture and warm lighting.
Former Mayor Frank Jordan, retired Judge and former Supervisor Quentin Kopp and businessman Robert Guichard are pushing an overhaul of Board of Supervisors elections. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

Based on the idea of “at-large from district,” the measure would allow all voters to weigh in on the elections of all 11 supervisors. San Francisco is divided into 11 districts, and currently, voters in each district elect their own supervisors, who also must live in the respective district.

The new proposal would keep the districts intact, but open the door for all voters to elect their supervisors—meaning they each can vote 11 times in 11 districts, no matter where they live. Candidates for supervisor would still be required to live in the district they’re running for, however.

“I believe it is more effective when you have representation of a person living in the district, but having a citywide election,” Jordan said. “That's a key factor in this because there is strength in unity.”

The push to change district elections comes from frustration with City Hall, which is often accused of being too dysfunctional to solve the city’s most pressing crises.

While district elections are considered helpful in ensuring minority representation, critics argue the current system pushes the powerful Board of Supervisors into silos with insufficient attention to citywide issues.

“It will provide all 11 districts with their supervisor,” Kopp said, “but with the vote of all people who are registered to vote.”

The political trio’s experiment of voting across district lines may be influenced by a recent California Supreme Court decision that reaffirms the state’s Voting Rights Act, which favors district elections to protect against diluting minority votes.

This is the third time Kopp has tried to launch this ballot measure initiative with the Department of Elections. The previous two attempts were withdrawn.

An elderly man with a warm smile, wearing a suit and tie, stands before a light background.
Retired Judge and former Supervisor Quentin L. Kopp is rallying support for a ballot measure that would change district elections. | Source: Juliana Yamada for The Standard

It’s unclear whether this proposal will face any legal challenges. The City Attorney’s Office said it generally does not comment on the legality of potential ballot measures. Current Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin previously told The Standard that Kopp’s idea would violate federal law.

Others have floated a “hybrid” concept that would split the Board of Supervisors into a mix of district elections and at-large seats. But such a proposal may result in fewer and larger districts, and Kopp said that because of the California Supreme Court decision, his campaign wants to keep the 11 districts.

San Francisco had citywide elected supervisors before 2000. But at the time, the system led to concerns that certain neighborhoods got greater representation. In 2000, the city moved to adopt district elections.

Kopp’s proposal would also bring back odd-year elections in San Francisco, starting in November 2025.

To qualify for the ballot, organizers must gather about 50,000 signatures by July. Kopp said the campaign is expecting over 70,000 signatures and has set up a headquarters in the West Portal area. 

Guichard, who sponsored a successful 1980 campaign to repeal district elections, is also confident the proposal will resonate with voters.

Han Li can be reached at han@sfstandard.com