Upcoming Assembly District Election Could Carry Outsized Implications

  • A wonky election called ADEM, Assembly District Election Meeting, may determine endorsements in high-stakes races in California over the next few years

  • ADEM elections take place in January of odd-numbered years, with each of San Francisco's two Assembly Districts choosing 14 delegates

  • Those delegates are responsible for voting on the Democratic party agenda and issuing endorsements under the banner of the California Democratic Party

  • The California Democratic Party switched to a mail-only voting process because of COVID, and candidates are racing to get the word out ahead of a Jan. 11 deadline to request ballots

A relatively obscure election called Assembly District Election Meeting, or ADEM, could set the stage for high-stakes campaigns in San Francisco over the next few years. With the pandemic still roiling, candidates are mobilizing to get the word out ahead of a Jan. 11 deadline.


ADEM is a group of delegates, divided by California Assembly district, that set the Democratic party agenda and issue endorsements in races for California State Assembly, California State Senate, U.S. House of Representative and U.S. Senate. Each Assembly District in San Francisco, AD 17 and AD 19, elects 14 representatives in the low-turnout election, which takes place in January of odd-numbered years.


Because of the pandemic, the California Democratic Party (CADEM) switched late last year to a mail-only election in each of the state's 80 Assembly Districts.


“We hope to continue encouraging California Democrats to stay engaged while keeping a safe distance, wearing a mask and adhering to the recommendations of health experts,” said CADEM Chair Rusty Hicks.


Several slates of candidates emerged between San Francisco's two Assembly Districts, including three total slates in AD 17, which covers the east side of the City. And in the background is a political changing of the guard expected over the next few years.


Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is on her 17th term as San Francisco's Congressional representative, and her fourth term as House Speaker, has suggested that her current speakership will be her last. If she does indeed retire after her current term, it would open up San Francisco's congressional seat for the first time in 35 years. Depending on who runs for that seat, the race could open up seats in California's own legislative chambers as well.


The ADEM votes on which candidates will carry the official Democratic Party endorsement, which is believed to significantly boost margins in a heavily Democratic city and state. They group is also tasked with the sometimes thankless job of liaising with the state's Democratic Party, County Central Committees, and Democratic clubs, in addition to other intraparty procedural tasks.


"A well-worn joke in SF politics is that the only thing better than winning your race for central committee is not winning," quipped Alex Clemens, a political consultant who is not involved with this year's ADEM campaigns.


Meanwhile, candidates are marshaling email lists, social media and personal contact lists to remind voters of a Jan. 11 deadline to request a ballot, and to inform them of the mail-in timeline: Ballots must be received by Jan. 27 to be eligible, and with the Postal Service strained by the pandemic, most candidates are recommending voters to send ballots in by Jan. 22.


"This election really emphasizes the point that all politics are local," said Nima Rahimi, an attorney and immigrant rights advocate running for a seat in the AD 17 delegation. "Because this is an intraparty election, neither the Secretary of State nor local departments of election are involved and ballots are not automatically mailed to all registered Democrats. Thus, it’s incumbent upon us candidates to have our supporters register."


"It’s an arduous process, but it’s part of the democratic process," Rahimi added.

Image by Jake Buonemani
Image by Rasmus Gundorff Sæderup
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