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Afton Branche Headshot

San Francisco Goes to the Ballot Box for Electoral Reform

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San Francisco may soon become a national model for election reform. Voters tomorrow will decide on the Saturday Voting Act, a proposition that would require San Francisco to open all polling places on the Saturday before Election Day in the November 2011 city election.

Alex Tourk, organizer of San Francisco's weekend voting campaign, says: "If we really want to increase access to the democratic process, especially for working families and single parents, we should do what the rest of the world does and vote on the weekend."

A weekend voting option would make it much easier for working citizens to get out and vote. According to a Census Bureau study of the 2008 election, the most common reason registered voters reported not voting was due to their busy schedules. Though 2008 had the highest voter turnout rates in 40 years, the United States still ranks near the bottom on voter turnout compared to most other developed countries.

The measure would create a pilot program to open hundreds of polling stations around the city. And best of all, it would be funded by private contributions, so the 2011 experiment wouldn't cost taxpayers a dime. This could explain why Proposition I has racked up endorsements, including from the San Francisco Chronicle and Board of Education. SF's campaign is inspired by the national "Why Tuesday?" movement, an organization founded in 2005 that seeks to increase voter turnout and participation.

If successful, the city's program could spark action on weekend voting elsewhere. In an interview with the New York Times, Tourk said he'd like to expand the plan to statewide and national elections. And last week, New York Mayor Bloomberg voiced his support for the act, and indicated that New York could be next. Bloomberg said: "I look forward to working with local civic and community leaders to develop our own weekend voting proposal. Weekend voting is an idea whose time has come."

The Saturday Voting Act is an innovation that could significantly boost voter turnout, and at the same time help improve our electoral process. It will be exciting to see if San Francisco can make this happen.