SF elections chief prepares for quickly approaching recall vote

In a matter of weeks, California voters will be asked to answer these questions: Shall Gavin Newsom be recalled? If so, who should replace him as governor? As Newsom and his opponents vie for voters’ attention, John Arntz is working around the clock. 

"So right now, we’re very busy," said Arntz.  "And it happened all at one time for this election."

Arntz is the director of elections for the county and city of San Francisco. Once the lieutenant governor set the date for the gubernatorial recall election, Arntz and other election chiefs statewide began staffing up and doing the work they usually have more than a year to do—in just weeks. 

"There’s no need for a voter to actually contact us, request a ballot, because everyone will get a ballot automatically," said Arntz. 

Like the 2020 presidential election, every registered voter in California will receive a ballot in the mail. Arntz said San Francisco will send them out starting on August 11.  

Due to recent legislation, each county must open as many in-person polling locations as they did for the 2020 general election.  In San Francisco, that means 558, but staffing them is another question.  "We need about 500 poll workers still to join us for this elections process and we still have a need for bilingual Chinese speakers," said Arntz. 

Early voting begins on August 16 at San Francisco City Hall, where stations complete with plexiglass barriers are already set up. Arntz’s staff is busy confirming polling locations and preparing the system to tabulate and report results, securely. 

"Election security is an ongoing matter, it’s not just during the election cycle or election," said Arntz. "But during the election cycle and Election Day, we have other measures that are in place." 

Arntz reminds voters even if they mark "no" on the first question, they can still vote for one of the 46 candidates on the second page. The state finance department finalized the cost of the election at $276 million. The legislature set aside $250 million in the budget to help counties with expenses. "San Francisco’s cost around $9 million, but it doesn’t mean San Francisco’s going to be reimbursed the full 9 million dollars," explained Arntz.  "This is impacting all counties throughout California, how much will counties be made whole from this reimbursement from the state, that’s a question still unanswered." 

Despite the compressed timeline and the long hours still ahead, Arntz reassures San Francisco voters, the Department of Elections is ready for September 14.  

"The ballots will be sent out, the polling places will be fully staffed, the ballots will be available," said Arntz.  "And if people want to vote, the ballots will available to them in some form of fashion." 

For more information about voting in San Francisco or to apply to become a poll worker, visit: https://sfelections.sfgov.org/