Living in San Francisco can be wonderful. Despite the many problems and challenges we face—namely, how to ensure we all of us, not just billionaires, can live here—the city’s magical heart still beats deep and strong. And then, there are moments like yesterday, when I was horrified to read that the San Francisco Elections Commission has not renewed John Arntz’s contract as Director of Elections. The reason? The color of his skin. Joe Eskenazi reports:

“Our decision wasn’t about your performance, but after twenty years we wanted to take action on the City’s racial equity plan and give people an opportunity to compete for a leadership position,” reads an email sent from commission president Chris Jerdonek to Arntz. “We also wanted to allow enough time for a fair and equitable process and conduct as broad a search as possible.”

I am a law professor at UC Hastings, specializing in criminal justice and civil rights. I thought I’d seen it all, but when I read the Commission’s explanation, I had to do a double take. Have the commissioners not heard about the United States Constitution’s prohibition of discrimination based on the color of one’s skin? Are they begging to get sued? What on Earth were they thinking?

Beyond the legal inanity, this decision deeply hurt my civic pride. I have worked as a precinct inspector in San Francisco elections multiple times. I’ve served in the Excelsior, in Bayview, and in the City Hall headquarters. Each time I was blown away by the marvel that is the San Francisco election. Worker recruitment is superb. The training is thorough and complete, and provided in multiple accessible formats. The technology works without fail. There are hordes of professional, competent people at the beck and call of each precinct to solve problems (which are extremely rare and easy to sort out.) Drivers drop poll workers at the doorstep of where they need to go. Everything is packed and labeled to perfection. The COVID-19 guidelines are eminently sensible and geared toward facilitating voting in every possible situation. Even through the madness of last year’s four elections, the election ship sailed smoothly, with Arntz at the helm. I am proud to work in the SF election, and volunteer time after time, because it is the only thing in the city that works like a Swiss clock.

It was especially appalling to see this cruel and outrageous decision justified by an ignorant, twisted understanding of “inclusivity” when, thanks to Arntz, San Francisco’s election is precisely the DEI victory that other cities can only aspire to. Under Arntz’s competent and professional leadership, the city offers tree, fair, and functional voting to everyone, rich or poor, young or old, abled or facing difficulty. Our election is the most inclusive one, language-wise, that I am familiar with. A high percentage of poll workers are proficient in multiple languages and assist voters in the way they need. Our vote-by-mail option runs without a hitch. When I participated in a litigation effort to restore voting rights to people incarcerated in jails, Arntz’s one page brief supported us without reservation. Against a backdrop of nationwide concerns of voter suppression and exclusion, San Francisco elections have never raised a whisper of concern. If there is anyone who has majorly contributed to equity in the city and county of San Francisco, it is John Arntz.

The decision not to renew Arntz’s contract—to essentially reject one of the city’s most competent, talented, and efficient managers, in charge of a crucial civic function, for an absurdly unfair consideration—echoes the school renaming scandal from the pandemic days, which sent scores of parents of all social classes and financial abilities fleeing from our school district—because apparently the best way to achieve “equity” for children of color was through meaningless pageantry, rather than through actually educating them. Throughout the city, people who care deeply about actual inclusivity—not its performative mirage—stood up and rejected incompetence. It is time for all these people, and for every San Francisco voter, to rise in support of Arntz’s proven professionalism and excellence. The crown jewel of city administration and of civil rights is at stake.

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