June Ballot Measures Get Their Letters

Thanks to three large mason jars, the political ad blitz may begin.

Department of Elections employees Matthew Selby, left, and Greg Slocum, right, prepare measures on the June 5 ballot for letter designation on Monday, March 12, 2018. (Photo by Ida Mojadad)

Though San Francisco is often the site of colorful civic engagement and activism, the formal letter designation looked more like a setup for Parks and Recreation.

With three large mason jars on a six-person table next to the Department of Elections busy front desk, June ballot measures were officially designated its letters on Monday. Of the four witnesses who attended, one was not affiliated with any media outlets — but with so few, all helped selected strips of paper with ballot titles from the jars.

As recently as 2016, Department of Elections physically cut the letters from printed paper and glued them to an easel. Now, a live stream captures Campaign Services Assistant Manager Matthew Selby cutting, pasting, and formatting the titles within Microsoft Powerpoint in real time — but still a few feet away from the office printer.

Of course, that’s after Campaign Services Manager Greg Slocum carefully holds each slip up the camera before he folds it, attaches a paper clip and drops it in the mason jar that he shakes around for attendees to choose from.

Elections with more measures — like November 2016 with a grueling 26 — attract more parties to the letter designation, Selby says. Protest of a chosen letter usually comes when a measure ends up with W or X and ends up toward the bottom of the ballot.

Allen Jones — who gathered signatures for what is now Proposition I — was the only proponent of a measure to attend. The measure to set policy against relocating sports teams like the Golden State Warriors is the first Jones has put forward. He praises the department for going above and beyond in helping him through the process.

“I could not be more proud of the Department of Elections,” Allen says. “I could not say the same about City Hall though.”

The political machine that revolves around City Hall has been whirring for months but assigned letters allow for campaigns around measures to stick with voters. After all, “Yes on Prop E” pamphlets hitting doorsteps are less likely to be recycled than “Yes on Prohibiting Tobacco Retailers from Selling Tobacco Products,” which the Board of Supervisors already approved.

Though the Department of Elections swiftly updated the measures online, calls came to its front desk asking for the designated letters minutes after they were finalized. Here’s how they shake out:

  • Regional Measure 3: Bay Area Traffic Relief Plan
  • Proposition A: Public Utilities Revenue Bonds
  • Proposition B: Prohibiting Appointed Commissioners from Running for Office
  • Proposition C: Additional Tax on Commercial Rents Mostly to Fund Child Care and Education
  • Proposition D: Additional Tax on Commercial Rents Mostly to Fund Homelessness Services
  • Proposition E: Prohibiting Tobacco Retailers from Selling Flavored Tobacco Products
  • Proposition F: City-Funded Legal Representation for Residential Tenants in Eviction Lawsuits
  • Proposition G: Parcel Tax for San Francisco Unified School District
  • Proposition H: Policy for the Use of Tasers by San Francisco Police Officers
  • Proposition I: Relocation of Professional Sports Teams

This is just one breakdown of how the election sausage gets made in San Francisco. Stay tuned for more election coverage.

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