My 2020 Voter Guide
Everyone is following the presidential election, but there are a lot of other important things to vote on, particularly at the local level. Here are my thoughts.
Background: I’ve been following the races and ballot measures in California (particularly those SF, LA, and SD) and in Maryland/Washington D.C. pretty closely, so that’s what I will be focusing on. Also, I am approaching each race from that of a pragmatic progressive — I care more about the real-world impacts of policies than the ideology behind them. If you’re a Trump supporter, you probably won’t find this guide very valuable. But hey, feel free to keep reading, you might get a new perspective on some things. I have also included “soft” or “strong” recommendations to indicate issues that have convincing arguments on both sides (soft) or are no-brainers in my opinion (strong).
High Level Overview
Federal: Vote For Biden/Democrats
California Props: YES on 14, 15, 17, 18, 19, 21, 25; NO on 20, 22, 23, 24
SF Candidates: Scott Wiener, Marjan Philhour, Danny Sauter, Vallie Brown, Myrna Melgar, Asha Safai
SF Props: YES on A, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K; NO on B, I, L
Los Angeles: Nithya Raman for City Council, George Gascon for DA
San Diego: Todd Gloria for Mayor, YES on E
Maryland: YES on Question 1
Montgomery County MD: YES on A, NO on B, C, D
US President: Biden/Harris
Duh. I shouldn’t need to explain this one more, but one thing that I care about and want to highlight is that the Biden proposal on housing is really good! It calls for ending exclusionary zoning laws that prohibit housing from being built in resource-rich areas, and would drive more environmentally-friendly homes near transit centers.
Congress/Senate: The Democrat
Every single Republican politician (even Mitt Romney), has enabled Trump, who is clearly unfit to serve, and will pursue policies that will take away healthcare, environmental protections, and LGBTQ rights. Two conservative Supreme Court Justices this week said they want to overturn Obergefell, the ruling that legalized gay marriage in the US. Vote for the Democratic candidates.
California Statewide Ballot Props:
Let me preface this by saying that California has way too many ballot props. There is no reason we should be voting on technical dialysis rules every year. Furthermore, most ballot props are really hard to modify/fix without an entirely new ballot prop, which creates a never-ending cycle of ever-lengthening ballots. As a result, I am generally skeptical of legislating via ballot props, and highlight this in my endorsements where relevant.
Prop 14 (stem cell research): soft YES
This proposition would use a bond to fund billions of dollars in stem cell research. It isn’t perfect, and is lacking some accountability standards that it should have. That said, there is a wide range of empirical evidence that state investments in R&D spending (including stem cell funding) produces broader macroeconomic benefits (and most economists agree). Furthermore, bond rates are historically low, and now is the perfect time for the government to borrow money to fund investments in R&D like this. I’m voting YES, but I think there are reasonable arguments to be made against this proposition.
Prop 15 (closes commercial property tax loophole): STRONG YES
To understand Prop 15, you need to first understand Prop 13, which was passed in 1978 when California was a deep red, anti-tax state. Prop 13 made it so that property taxes can only rise by 2% each year, regardless of how much a property increases in value. The impact of this has been to subsidize long-time Californian homeowners (who are typically richer and whiter) at the expense of renters, immigrants, and people who have moved to the state. This has created an absurd system where neighbors who own homes of similar values could pay drastically different tax rates — here’s a set of examples showing how someone can pay $800 in property tax while their neighbor pays $30k+. It’s a poorly designed law that has crippled California’s ability to raise funds for schools and other necessary measures, which has forced the state to raise other, less efficient forms of taxation like sales and income taxes. The worst part is that Prop 13 doesn’t just distort residential property taxes, it applies the same distortionary rules to commercial property as well.
Enough about Prop 13. It’s bad. What does Prop 15 do? It takes the worst part of Prop 13 (massive commercial landlords benefits), and repeals them, ending the loophole where some commercial landlords pay a small fraction of the rent of their neighbors. This means new businesses and start-ups buying corporate real estate will no longer be at a competitive disadvantage to entrenched competitors locked into artificially low property taxes just because they were lucky enough to buy property earlier. Furthermore, Prop 15 would actually lower property taxes for small businesses, which is a major benefit during a pandemic that has forced many to shut down. For better or worse, Prop 15 would not impact residential property tax rates at all.
Finally, this would raise billions of money for schools and transit (see how much your county/city would raise here!), at a time when our state is facing a pandemic-induced budget crisis. This one is a real no-brainer. VOTE YES ON 15!
Prop 16 (legalizes affirmative action): YES
Like Prop 15, this Proposition only exists to modify/fix an existing proposition. In this case, Prop 16 would repeal Proposition 209 (from 1996), which made affirmative action illegal in the state of California. If passed, Prop 16 would allow state/local governments and universities to use affirmative action programs to help undo decades of discrimination that have resulted in our state having one of the widest racial wealth gaps in the country.
Our current system allows college admissions officers to reward legacy students and allows cities to reward friendly contractors, both practices that disproportionately shut out BIPOC students and businesses, essentially functioning as affirmative action for the privileged and affluent. However, using diversity as a factor remains illegal, despite the fact that it can be used to advance racial justice. We should legalize affirmative action and pass Prop 16.
Prop 17 (expanding voting rights to people on parole): STRONG YES
California has the opportunity to expand voting rights to people on parole with Proposition 17, something that is already legal in 19 other states. There are currently 50,000 Californians who have completed their prison sentences and can’t vote, which is a racist disenfranchisement of poor people and people of color who are more likely to be convicted of crimes and lose their voting rights.
Furthermore, studies have shown that giving formerly incarcerated people the right to vote reduces recidivism and crime overall. Democracy works best when everyone participates, and voting should be a right for ALL. Vote YES on Prop 17.
Prop 18 (allows 17 year-olds to vote in primaries): YES
Prop 18 allows 17 year-olds to vote if they turn 18 by the general election. This is something that is already allowed in 22 states, and makes logical sense — if you are old enough to vote in the general election, you should be able to have a say in which candidates make it on the general election ballot.
Voting is a lifetime habit, and those who vote when they are young are more likely to vote for the rest of their lives. Democracy works best when everyone participates, and Prop 18 makes it easier for young people to have their voices heard.
Prop 19 (prop 13 adjustments): soft YES
This is yet another adjustment to Prop 13. It’s not a slam-dunk, but it seems to be a modest improvement. It ends Prop 13’s inheritance loophole where a child can inherit a property with a stunningly low tax rate and then rent it out (Jeff Bridges notoriously did this). On the other hand, Prop 19 also makes it easier for people who move to maintain their Prop 13 benefits.
It’s a mixed bag, and on net seems slightly better than the status quo. However, I agree with the late Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens that Prop 13 “establishes a privilege of a medieval character: Two families with equal needs and equal resources are treated differently solely because of their different heritage, which is arbitrary and unreasonable”. I personally hope that Prop 13 is entirely repealed in the near future. In the meantime, I’ll begrudgingly be voting yes on Prop 19.
Prop 20 (overturning criminal justice reforms): STRONG NO
Prop 20 makes changes to make criminal sentencing charges more strict. I’m with former Gov. Jerry Brown on this one: “Prop. 20 wants to basically eliminate all hope in the prison. Men who have given decades will have no chance to earn their way back to society. And that’s fundamental to any kind of criminal justice system that while you impose punishment, you make room for redemption and rehabilitation in the prison.”
The last thing we need to do is make our criminal sentencing harsher, which costs the state money and further increases our disproportionately high rates of incarceration. Vote No.
Prop 21 (rent control): soft YES
Prop 21 expands local governments’ power to enact rent control, with some reasonable restrictions (does not apply to small projects, exempts housing that was built in the past 15 years) that make this an improvement over 2018’s Prop 10 (which failed).
While there are reams of economic literature suggesting that rent control is not an effective way to lower rents, there is evidence that it is effective at reducing displacement, which is also a valid (but different) goal. The main levers to lower rents are to legalize more housing in California — in most of the state (and even most of LA or SF!) it is currently illegal to build dense, multi-family housing. Ideally, I would have liked to see Prop 21 include some housing production provisions to tackle both rent prices and displacement.
This isn’t a perfect measure by any means, it probably won’t reduce rents but it seems to be marginally better than the status quo and will prevent some displacement. I plan on voting Yes, but I can definitely see the valid arguments against the proposal.
Prop 22 (reclassifies app-based drivers as contractors): NO
Prop 22 would reclassify app-based workers (and only app based workers — other industries impacted by AB5 would remain unaffected) as independent contractors and enacts several labor policies related to app-based companies. This would overrule a California Supreme Court ruling that was codified by AB5, creating a more stringent test that codified many independent contractors as full employees.
Prop 22 is a choice between not great and not great: a new job classification is needed that provides app-based service workers the protections of California employment laws while allowing the flexibility that many employees desire.
The biggest issue I have with Prop 22 is that it requires a 7/8th legislature majority to change or fix any provisions in the law. This is nearly impossible, and with this industry changing so fast, the last thing we should be doing is making it tougher for future fixes to this law. I think the ideal scenario here is Prop 22 failing, but legislators taking up a new law with broad AB5 fixes.
AB5 has lots of issues (and will continue to be improved — hopefully), but Prop 22 is even worse and should be rejected.
Prop 23 (dialysis regulation): NO
In short, Prop 23 requires a physician to be on-site at dialysis clinics and consent from the state for a clinic to close.
While this concept sounds fine, this shouldn’t be a statewide referendum, where any changes or fixes would have to go back to the voters yet again. It does not make sense to have voters decide these highly-technical issues on dialysis, that should be the legislature’s job.
I’m voting No here. Hopefully we get a few years off from voting on dialysis ballot props after this.
Prop 24 (consumer privacy law): NO
Prop 24 seeks to expands the provisions of the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) and creates the California Privacy Protection Agency to implement and enforce the CCPA. However, the CCPA was only signed into law 2 short years ago and didn’t even go into effect until January of 2020.
There’s no clear reason to believe the CCPA isn’t working as intended or these are necessary revisions at present. Similar to Prop 23, the legislature should address any future fixes to the CCPA rather than the voters completely changing the law after a year, while making future changes harder, which is what Prop 24 would do. Vote No.
Prop 25 (upholds SB10 which ends cash bail): YES
In 2018, the Legislature passed SB10, which eliminated cash bail, an important criminal justice measure seeking to reduce the influence of money as the primary factor influencing who does or does not receive bail while awaiting trail.
The top opponents of this proposition are all bail bond businesses. Cash bail disproportionately impacts lower income and BIPOC individuals. It is an unfair system and companies that profit off of a predatory industry are the main proponents of this bill. While the replacement risk-based system isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement over cash bail.
Vote Yes to end cash bail and uphold SB10.
San Francisco Bay Area Races:
San Francisco politics as a whole is inscrutable, and instead of the usual D vs. R partisanship, the two factions are “establishment progressives” (e.g., Aaron Peskin) and “liberals/moderates” (e.g., Mayor Breed). These names are honestly misnomers, with some liberal/moderate candidates supporting more progressive policies, and as a result, I am looking at all of the candidates purely based on their records and policy platforms.
State Senate (SD-11): STRONG Scott Wiener
Scott is one of the most effective legislators in the entire country, and has received national attention for his work on housing, and he gets the connection between housing and climate policy better than just about anyone. So much so, that Donald Trump wrote an Op-Ed singling him out for his housing policies. Trump fights the keep the “suburban lifestyle dream” via exclusionary, racist, anti-climate policies, and Scott’s vision of dense housing near improved transit is the antitheses of that.
Scott has also received national attention for an LGBTQ equality bill that he wrote, resulting in organized, right-wing QAnon networks targeting him with thousands of death threats. Donald Trump Jr. and Ted Cruz boosted this harassment as well.
I have also been disappointed to see Scott’s opponent attack Scott for supporting SB1, a gas tax that has resulted in road repairs and billions of dollars in transit funding. This one is a no-brainer. Vote for Scott.
State Assembly (AD-17, AD-19): David Chiu, Phil Ting
Both of these races are uncontested for all intents and purposes but Chiu and Ting are reliable, pragmatic progressives who have introduced good bills on housing, transit, criminal justice, tenants rights, etc. You can feel good voting for them.
SF Supervisor (District 1 — Richmond): STRONG Marjan Philhour
Marjan is running an inspiring campaign centered around improving transit, building more homes, and saving our small businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. She’s by far the best candidate in D1.
I have also been incredibly disappointed to see her major opponent, Connie Chan, come out in opposition to Measure RR which would save Caltrain. She also opposes more housing in SF. It’s worth voting against Connie Chan for these issues alone.
SF Supervisor (District 3— North Beach): STRONG Danny Sauter
Danny is a community organizer running on the right policies: more homes, better transit, and small business relief. He relies on his bike to get around SF and knows just how important protected bike lanes are (as do I, I broke my wrist a few years ago because a car hit me in an unprotected bike lane).
Just as important, his opponent, Aaron Peskin, has been in SF government for two decades and has consistently opposed more homes, tried to kill Caltrain, and is consistently characterized as a bully. In fact, when I called into public comment for a public meeting, he called me names. His brand of regressive, machine politics should be strongly repudiated.
SF Supervisor (District 5— Haight, Cole Valley): Vallie Brown
Vallie Brown previously served as supervisor in D5, where she fought to upzone the Divisadero corridor and build more housing. She was also endorsed by the SF Transit Workers Union and passed a plan to hire more Muni drivers. She’s not as strong a candidate as Danny or Marjan but she is on the whole better than her chief opponent, Dean Preston.
Dean Preston frames himself as a Democratic Socialist, which is why his tenure in office has been so surprising and disappointing. Dean has consistently opposed building more housing, to the point where he killed a project to build four homes on a vacant lot. He also voted down the SFMTA appointment of Jane Natoli, a highly respected biking advocate. Dean is like a bad parody of the left who is more worried about insulting people on twitter than actually governing.
SF Supervisor (District 7— Twin Peaks, Park Merced): Myrna Melgar
Myrna Melgar served on the Planning Commission and it’s clear that she has a good grasp on the issues of housing and transit in our city. She has been pragmatic throughout her career and I have confidence that she will push the city in the right direction.
On the other hand, her two main opponents have been running horrible campaigns. Joel Engardio used to support building more housing but has gone far to the right on that issue and criminal justice, adopting a troubling “Law and Order” style campaign. On the other side is Vilaska Nguyen, who is running on the left but has limited political experience and has a very weak grasp on any of the issues. Myrna Melgar is the clear choice here.
SF Supervisor (District 9—The Mission): N/A
Hillary Ronen is running unopposed here. She’s not terrible but has been consistently opposed to building more housing and seems more focused on national issues (where she has no real impact) than the local issues she actually has control over. She’s also consistently opposed more housing in SF. I’d leave this one blank.
SF Supervisor (District 11— Balboa Park): Asha Safaí
Asha is the incumbent in D11 and he has been a solid supervisor. In his time in office, Safaí has brought hundreds of new homes to District 11, worked to ensure the streets are safer and cleaner, and has hosted the first vehicle triage center for people living in their vehicles. He has the strong support of labor and will continue to prioritize the kind of work that keeps the lights on in the District, as he has shown in the past 4 years.
In what seems to be a theme in SF, his opponent, John Avalos, is horrible. In addition to being anti-housing, he has a long history of ethics violations and is making a political comeback after having an affair with a staffer in his office. No thanks.
BART Board: Lateefah Simon (D7), Bevan Dufty (D9)
Board of Education: Michelle Parker (STRONG), Jenny Lam (leave the rest blank)
City College Board of Trustees: Victor Olivieri, Jeanette Quick (leave the rest blank)
SF Propositions (there are way too many of these so gonna keep it short and sweet):
YES ON A, C, D, E, F, G, H, J, K, RR
A: Bond for parks and street safety. The city has lost revenue due to the pandemic and lending rates are cheap.
C: Removes citizenship requirement for serving on city boards. This is obvious, any qualified candidate should be able to serve, even if not a US citizen.
D: This would establish a board for oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. Police reform is important and we hope the city continues to make strides on this.
E: This would end a constitutional mandate for police staffing. There is no reason our specific police staff requirements should even be in the constitution to begin with, this is a no-brainer.
F: This measure would adjust the way the city assesses business taxes to be fairer, helping close a pandemic-induced budget loophole. Every major official in the city supports it.
G: This would allow 16 year-olds to vote in local elections. As a 16-year old, I was informed on the issues and would have loved the opportunity to vote in local elections. This seems like a good idea with little downside.
STRONG YES ON H: This would streamline small business permitting requirements to make it easier to open a business in the city. The current process is completely broken and needs to be fixed — vote YES!
J: Prop J is a parcel tax to pay for raises for educators in San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD) and if it seems familiar, it’s because there was a similar measure in 2018. However, the 2018 measure has been held up in court over a technicality, and this is aiming to end the legal hold-ups.
K: This would allow 10,000 units of public housing to be built in SF. We need more housing at all price levels, and public housing should be a tool to fight the housing crisis. The only reason we need to even vote on this is a stupid state rule requiring all public housing to require voter approval (something that Scott Wiener is working to overturn). To be clear though, there’s no funding mechanism so I strongly doubt that 10,000 homes will actually be built, but it should at least be legal to build them, so why not vote yes?
STRONG YES on Measure RR: This would implement a tiny, 1/8th cent sales tax (so an $8 burrito would have an additional penny in tax), which would save Caltrain. Seems like a very good trade, especially considering that Caltrain will be forced to shut down, potentially permanently, without this funding, driving more pollution and traffic. This one needs 2/3rds of the vote to pass, so it is extra important to vote YES!
NO ON B, I, L
B: This would split the city’s Department of Public Works into an entirely new Department of Sanitation. This would cost the city millions of dollars in overhead when budget cuts are being made and there’s no clear path to how this will actually improve sanitation in the city. Vote No.
I: This would double real estate transfer taxes on properties over $10M. While this sounds fine, the reality is that most properties that are this expensive are actually plots where dense, multi-family housing would be built, and the nonpartisan city economist found that this tax would reduce the number of homes built in the city and cost us jobs. If anything, we should raise the transfer tax on single-family mansions worth between $2M-$10M rather than multi-family housing as Prop I does, which is why I’m voting No.
L: This would implement a tax on companies where the CEO makes significantly more than the median employee. While proponents say that it will target tech companies, the reality is that retail companies (where most employees are hourly workers) will likely be the ones actually paying this tax. Honestly, I’m still not opposed to the concept, but I think something like this should be implemented at the national, not the local level, where a business could simply move to Oakland or South SF to avoid the tax.
EAST BAY RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE
SANTA CLARA COUNTY RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE
SAN MATEO COUNTY RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE
I don’t follow politics closely enough to have an opinion on every race in the East Bay, South Bay, and Peninsula, but I trust East Bay for Everyone, South Bay YIMBY, and Peninsula For Everyone and their recommendations.
One quick race to call out is Senate District 15 in the South Bay — Vote For Dave Cortese. Dave has good housing and transit policies, and supports Prop 15, unlike his opponent. This one is tough for me because I actually personally know his opponent, Ann Ravel, from my time interning in Congress, and she has done great work at the FEC. However, Ravel has taken anti-housing stances and has sharply pivoted her campaign to the right to win Republican votes in this top-2 Democrat vs. Democrat race. Vote for Cortese.
SAN DIEGO ENDORSEMENTS:
Mayor: STRONG Todd Gloria
Todd Gloria is a consistent advocate for transit, housing, and LGBTQ rights and has fought in the assembly for those issues. His opponent, Barbara Bry, is a right-wing NIMBY who opposes housing and has ran a dirty campaign.
YES ON MEASURE E
This would eliminate a 30-foot height limit in the Midway district, legalizing dense, environmentally friendly housing in the transit-rich area. Vote YES
ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE:
I don’t follow SD politics closely enough to have an opinion on every race, but I trust San Diego YIMBY Democrats, a pro-housing nonprofit and their recommendations.
LOS ANGELES/OC ENDORSEMENTS:
District Attorney: George Gascon
George Gascon is a pragmatic, reform oriented DA with a lot of experience, and a significant improvement over Jackie Lacey, whose husband pulled a gun on Black Lives Matter protestors. Yikes!
City Council District 4: Nithya Raman
Nithya is an urban planner and progressive who looks like she will walk the walk on environmental policies. She supports protected bus/bike lanes and we generally could use more urban planners in government. Her opponent, David Ryu, is ineffectual and hasn’t done anything of note in his time in office.
ORANGE COUNTY RECOMMENDATIONS CAN BE FOUND HERE:
I don’t follow OC politics closely enough to have an opinion on every race, but I trust OC YIMBY, a pro-housing nonprofit and their recommendations.
DMV (DC/Maryland/Virginia) ENDORSEMENTS:
Montgomery County Questions: VOTE YES ON A, NO ON B, C & D
These policies would ironically make Montgomery County more like San Francisco’s dysfunctional political system by adding district seats and creating a property tax cap that would stifle revenue and force it to be made up with other, less efficient taxes like sales and income taxes. Vote No. Prop A is fine though, and would remove an arbitrary tax cap if the County Council supported it. Feel free to vote for that one.
I also generally trust the Greater Greater Washington Endorsements here: https://ggwash.org/elections/2020general