After 20 years of flawless and scandal-free performance, SF Department of Elections Director John Arntz, one of the most effective and hardest-working people in City Hall, won't have his contract renewed because of a “racial equity plan.”
When San Francisco Department of Elections director John Artz took over his job in 2002, the department was reeling from a series of embarrassing scandals, and had been through five directors in just seven years. In their write-up of (I swear to god I am not making this up) SF ballot boxes found floating in the San Francisco Bay, the Chronicle noted at the time that the department “has been plagued by a seemingly never-ending string of problems in recent years, ranging from slow election returns and misprints in the official ballot book to stacks of uncounted ballots being discovered days after the election.”
In Arntz’s 20 years on the job, there have been no scandals, malfeasances, or embarrassments. He even handled four elections in 2022 alone, without a whiff of criticism of the department. (And no indictments! Which is more than some departments can say.) Yet despite this, Mission Local reported Monday afternoon that Arntz would not have his contract renewed, as the SF Election Commission will not renew him when his current term runs out after this month’s election is certified.
In a move that shocked San Francisco political observers, the Elections Commission has decided to not renew Elections Director John Arntz's term.— Mission Local (@MLNow) November 21, 2022
Arntz oversaw four elections in 2022, and has been atop the department for 20 years. https://t.co/wujcw5nory
While some initial reporting stated Arntz had been fired, this is not the case. As the Chronicle explains, the SF Elections Commission “voted 4-2 last week to not renew director John Arntz’s five-year term and instead hire a search firm to consider him, if he wanted to apply, among a pool of other candidates.” So Artnz can apply again, though this is for a job he has clearly been more effective at than any previous director in decades.
With San Francisco’s fourth election of the year still to be certified, the man who oversaw it all and scores of other vote-counts over the past 20 years could lose his job next year. Here's why:https://t.co/jQQV0KbMB9— San Francisco Chronicle (@sfchronicle) November 22, 2022
The decision to not renew Arntz’s contract has drawn outrage and bafflement from all over the SF political spectrum. Mayor Breed said in a statement to the Chronicle that this was “unfair politicization of a key part of our government that is working well for the voters of this city.” Her frequent adversary Supervisor Aaron Peskin told Mission Local, “This is commission malfeasance,” and added, “This is demoralizing and humiliating to John and to the staff of the department.”
I don't get this move by the Elections Commission. Why push out SF's successful, nonpartisan, and universally respected elections director? https://t.co/0RglcP6p6V— Dean Preston (@DeanPreston) November 22, 2022
There was a brief controversy last year over the city’s exclusive use of Trump conspiracy punching bag Dominion Voting Systems. An Examiner report at the time raised questions that “Dominion Voting Systems has won more than $20 million in city contracts while Arntz’s department has become dependent on the company to hold elections.” But as that report also noted, “No other companies bid on San Francisco’s last voting machine contract,” because none of them could handle our ranked-choice voting system.
The Chronicle quotes an email from the Elections Department to Arntz, saying “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.”
When John Arntz took over as Director of Elections, the Department was a mess — remember ballot box tops floating in the bay?— Senator Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) November 22, 2022
Arntz turned it around. It’s now one of our best run departments.
Why on earth is the Elections Commission moving to dump this strong elections leader?
Arntz is highly respected at City Hall, so this may be a commission-level faux pas that will be reversed amidst media scrutiny, not unlike the SF school board trying to rename Roosevelt Middle School and then admitting they didn’t know which President Roosevelt it was named after. After all, the Chron notes that the Elections Commission will have to ask for $30,000 to $50,000 for an executive search to find replacement candidates, even though Arntz can still apply for his current job. As Peskin told Mission Local Monday, “I guarantee you that this Board and this mayor aren’t going to give them a damn penny.”
Image: @larrybobsf via Twitter