SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (CN) — Voters in San Francisco, California, ousted progressive District Attorney Chesa Boudin Tuesday in a recall election.
Boudin faced pushback since taking office in January 2020, when he promised to take a reform stance and divert people from prosecution and incarceration. Recall backers complained Boudin wasn't prosecuting criminals at the same rate as his predecessors and argued his policies contributed to an increase in crime and drug dealing in the city. The San Francisco Police Officers Association invested at least $600,000 into ads accusing Boudin of aiding criminals with his methods of reform, and conservative backers sunk millions into the recall effort that began to take shape in 2020.
Meanwhile, committees opposing the recall and several Bay Area criminal law experts described it as conservative effort to remove a progressive district attoreny and change the city's trajectory toward a differnt type of criminal justice system.
According to San Francisco Elections Office data, Prop H to recall Boudin had 74,335 "yes" votes (60%) and 49,591 "no" votes (40%), as of 11:38 p.m. Pacific Time.
Team Boudin campaign manager Zaki Shaheen said after the polls had closed Tuesday night that the team was "feeling really good about the position we've put ourselves in."
"We're extremely proud of our team and our incredible base of volunteers," Shaheen said.
Early voter turnout was low, following a trend that was reportedly dismal across the state. On Tuesday morning, turnout per ballots returned was just under 22% — with 110,415 ballots returned of 503,397 issued. As of 11:38 p.m., turnout was 25.82% with 127,926 votes out of 495,498 registered voters.
But this morning, City Hall buzzed with activity as people came seeking help to fill in their ballot or to get it dropped off quickly.
Some voters were clear they did not want Boudin to be recalled. Steve Lyon said he voted no on Prop H.
“The city definitely has its problems, but I don’t think he’s the only person to blame, or even the most responsible person for everything," Lyon said.
Vaughn Foster said he did not think removing Boudin would help the situation in San Francisco.
“I feel like personally, he means well. It’s the public perception that he isn’t doing a good job. He has determination and a good mindset. It’s not his fault," Foster said. "They need to give him a chance, they haven’t really given him a chance.”
Peter Taylor said he's frustrated that a fair election was contested with signatures and a “disproportionate amount of money" from wealthy investors who have backed conservative candidates in other states.
“I don’t think a Republican-voted big money recall is fair," Taylor said. "It’s a bummer when the candidate you don’t like gets in, but to an extent you have to deal with it.”
Others said they don't believe Boudin has been effective in his role.
“I’m definitely voting yes on H,” Susan Abbott said, citing homelessness, drug sales and crime, which she said Boudin is not responding to efficiently. She said she also volunteered in the city to lead efforts to recall Governor Gavin Newsom because she thinks the city and state are “enabling” homelessness and crime.
Abbott added she is tired of seeing drug deals in the Tenderloin district, which she thinks involve immigrants from other countries, saying “The DA will do nothing, because we are a sanctuary city.”
“The city is emboldening everyone to commit more serious crimes,” Abbott said. She said if Boudin is recalled, she wants Mayor London Breed to select someone with “common sense," who is focused on protecting victims and property.
According to data from the San Francisco’s Ethics Commission, the recall’s opposition committees raised $3,344,726, while the effort to recall raised $7,234,610. These totals included monetary and non-monetary contributions, loans, miscellaneous increases to cash and funds reported on late-period filings.
On Monday and Tuesday, Boudin was meeting with voters across the city, including at BART stations. He told the San Francisco Chronicle that the recall's conservative backers are also attempting to unseat progressive prosecutors in other states.
“No question what they’re doing here in San Francisco is part of a national strategy," Boudin said.
The district attorney said he remained committed to goals he campaigned on — to reduce jail and prison populations while increasing services and rehabilitation. Boudin’s office has released Department of Justice and city data showing how crime has actually decreased citywide since he took office in 2020, and indicating he sent more people in robbery, assault and drug cases to pretrial diversion courts — an alternative to incarceration — than his predecessor, with fewer convictions sought. Data released by Boudin's staff showed he frequently charged defendants with crimes less serious than the charges sought by police officers after robbery and assault arrests.
Polls conducted in the past month consistently showed the majority of the city's voters looked ready to vote to remove Boudin, who has a disapproval rating of 62%.
But the Prop H campaign had no support from the San Francisco Democratic Party, and all major and local news sources, aside from the Marina Times, endorsed a "No" vote on the recall.
Breed has not spoken publicly about her stance on the race but will have the opportunity to name Boudin’s successor. While she did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday, she held a small press conference covered by KQED News to speak about the recall outcome.
"This does not mean that criminal justice reform in San Francisco is going anywhere," Breed said. "This is something we care about. We want justice, but we also want to make sure that people have a second chance to live an effective life, to live in San Francisco in a way that allows them to thrive and to not have to cross that line."