A Look Back: 2020 CA Election Results and Lessons Learned

A Look Back: 2020 CA Election Results and Lessons Learned

By Judith Bell and Fred Blackwell

For us, this November’s election was a powerful reminder of the importance of voice of who has it and who does not. This election year unfolded amidst a global pandemic that has exposed already existing health disparities and changed our daily routines — and perhaps our lives — forever. As a nation, we witnessed racial unrest across the US following the murder of George Floyd. It remains to be seen what lasting, positive impacts will be realized in the fight against anti-Black racism. These events have not just bled into our perceptions of democracy and patriotism but fueled our fire to lean into the true spirit of democracy: power to the people. Whose voices are we not hearing?

In this look back on our efforts to support and promote democracy and equity, we share examples of where we are moving in the right direction and where we have lessons to learn. What we know for sure is that lasting change is not always something that can happen over night; it often takes partnership, investment, commitment, and sustained efforts over a span of years to realize change.

Here in California we had equity on the ballot in November, and we showed up in record numbers to make our voices heard. Trouble is, most of the equity-focused propositions ultimately did not pass. While this is disappointing, we know that elections are not the destination, but instead stops along our longer racial equity journey. We came out of this year’s election with a large, powerful coalition willing to stand up and fight to make our state better for all people.

Moving in the right direction: Supporting schools and communities

San Francisco Foundation has been a longtime supporter and member of the Schools and Communities First coalition, which brought Proposition 15 to the ballot this year to close a corporate tax loophole and reclaim billions of dollars for our schools and communities. The coalition has been working to restore funding for our schools and our communities for 10 years, and SFF supported this work from its early days. By this year, the measure had more than 1,600 endorsers — community organizations, unions, elected officials, youth, faith leaders, educators, and small businesses across the state. More than 25,000 volunteers worked to gather support for the measure and more than 800,000 voters were contacted as part of the outreach efforts.

Though Proposition 15 didn’t win enough votes to pass, it did garner more support than many thought was possible, and the Bay Area was the strongest center of that support. This measure represented a big step forward for a more equitable and prosperous state, as a structural reform, its impacts would have been a long-lasting and positive change for the future of our schools and communities. The strong support for the measure, despite unforeseen organizing barriers due to the pandemic, provides a framework and base of power for future work and reform to truly take on some of the biggest challenges of our times. The campaign is now a coordinated, statewide force for equity that will continue to push on our lawmakers at the state and local level until change is realized.

Lessons learned: It takes a movement with community at the center

SFF was also a strong supporter of Proposition 16, the first attempt to overturn a more than 20-year-old law banning affirmative action. Passing the measure would have allowed the state to develop programs that directly address historic discrimination and systemic racial inequality, while also promoting diversity in public institutions. Unlike Proposition 15, which came to the ballot through signature gathering and voter engagement by the Schools and Communities First coalition, Proposition 16 was put on the ballot by the legislature in June 2020. As a result, the groups supporting Proposition 16 had only four months to pull together a campaign infrastructure, since voting started in early October. This quick timeline meant the campaign had little time to mobilize broad engagement, conduct the in-depth research that helps to inform campaign messaging, or perfect an on-the-ground community organizing structure. While the measure failed statewide (44% yes, 57% no), we were heartened that Alameda, Marin, San Francisco and San Mateo county voters all supported the measure, and Contra Costa’s support was higher than the statewide average. The movement-building work to educate the public and grow the coalition will continue.

Even in our disappointments, there is cause for hope and a renewed spirit of true democracy. Across the Bay Area, voters showed up repeatedly for racial justice and economic inclusion, reflecting the deep investment and history of community organizing and narrative change in the region. And the impact of these elections goes far beyond whether a measure simply passes or fails. As campaigns work to advance a measure, there are critical gains in raising public awareness, increasing capacity in community organizing, and developing new strategies to advance these reforms. Even a measure lost can lay the groundwork for a future win.

SFF took a stance on five statewide measures and four local Bay Area measures:

SFF Stance ​
Statewide Results​
Bay Area Results​
Yes on Proposition 15
Schools & Communities First​
Did Not Pass​ Passed in all 5 counties​
Yes on Proposition 16
Restore Affirmative Action​
Did Not Pass​ Passed in 4 of 5 counties​
Yes on Proposition 17
Restore the right to vote to people on parole​
Passed​ Passed in all 5 counties​
No on Proposition 20
Roll back reforms to criminal legal system​
Did Not Pass​ Rejected in all 5 counties​
No on Proposition 22
Exempt app-based drivers from labor laws ​
Passed​ Rejected in 4 of 5 counties​
SFF Stance
County Results​
Yes on Measure W, Alameda County​
½ cent sales tax​
Passed​​ 50.09% Yes
49.91% No
Yes on Measure X, Contra Costa County
½ cent sales tax​
Passed​ 58% Yes
42% No​
Yes on Proposition G, San Francisco​ County
Youth voting in local elections​
Did Not Pass​ 49.2% Yes
50.8% No​
Yes on Proposition K, San Francisco County​
Pre-approve 10,000 units of affordable housing​
Passed​ 74% Yes
26% No​
Power to the people: Lifting up new voices.

The Bay Area strongly supported the passage of Proposition 17, which restores the right to vote to those on parole. More than 50,000 Californians won the right to vote with the passage of Prop 17. This campaign had significant leadership from organizations led by previously incarcerated leaders, including from Legal Services for Prisoners with Children. The success of this campaign reminds us that we can make great strides when those most impacted use their civic voice to advocate and when we lift up and support those voices and calls for change.

In this election, the Bay Area showed that we choose all of us, regardless of our race, our income, or where we come from. Communities in the Bay Area passed measures to raise taxes locally to provide additional resources for homelessness (in Alameda County) and for health and community services (in Contra Costa). In Oakland, voters extended the right to vote in school board elections to 16- and 17-year olds, setting a new precedent for the right and responsibility of young people to play a role in shaping the systems that impact them.

Our work on ballot measures is never about one campaign. Our endorsements reflect deep community partnership spanning many years and are rooted in the priorities of our grantee organizations and the communities they serve.

This election has reminded us that we are still working toward a fair and equitable democracy. The one thing we know for sure is that movement building — building voice, agency, and power — is crucial to our success and that we must build coalitions and engage support long before ballots arrive in our mailboxes. We are committed to building the power and agency of Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian, and other people of color to shape and influence the decisions and policies that impact their lives. We know that when we all come together to support all of us, we can make big changes that make the Bay Area a better place for everyone.

Judith Bell is Chief Impact Officer and Fred Blackwell is CEO of the San Francisco Foundation.