Tech entrepreneur and neuroscientist Bilal Mahmood, one of four candidates for Assembly District 17, has a thin voting record, according to Department of Elections records obtained by Mission Local.
Since 2008, Mahmood has only voted in five general elections and the 2021 gubernatorial recall election. During years with no general election, he failed to vote in a single municipal election or state primary.
The other three candidates — David Campos, Matt Haney and Thea Selby — have voted in at least 20 elections each since 2008.
Although Mahmood points to his experience working for the Obama administration as a policy analyst, he failed to vote in Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential primary election.
And, while he voted in the 2020 general election, Mahmood skipped the 2020 primary, in which David Chiu ran for his most recent term as District 17 Assemblymember, the office Mahmood now aspires to attain. Chiu stepped down in October, 2021, to take over as City Attorney, and Mahmood is one of four candidates running for that office.
Since 2008, Mahmood voted in only six elections.
The other candidates all voted in at least 20.
Votes in elections
Since 2008, Mahmood voted in
only six elections. The other
candidates all voted in at least 20.
Votes in elections
Graph by Will Jarrett. Data from the Department of Elections. Please note: ‘other’ elections are the 2021 gubernatorial recall election and the 2009 May special election.
Mahmood didn’t explain why he voted so infrequently, but told Mission Local that he only recently became interested in local politics.
“National politics seem to be the gateway for most of us, growing up,” Mahmood said, adding that his voting practices evolved, and eventually he “got more locally engaged” in 2020 as he saw small businesses closing and a rise in anti-Asian violence during the pandemic.
Before the 2020 general election, Mahmood voted with his immigrant parents from Santa Clara County as a family tradition, despite having moved to San Francisco in 2014. He confirmed that he has only voted in the 2008, 2010, 2012, 2016 and 2020 general elections, as well as the 2021 gubernatorial recall election. Records show he did not vote in the 2014 or 2018 gubernatorial races.
Mahmood has branded himself as a candidate who can disrupt a system filled with career politicians, and is running against two political figures with extensive political experience, including District 6 Supervisor Matt Haney and former District 9 Supervisor David Campos.
But Mahmood’s spotty voting record raised doubts from his opponents about his genuine belief in the political process.
“Voting is fundamental to our democracy,” Haney told Mission Local, “and we should expect people who want to be elected in a democracy to have taken the time to vote.”
Thea Selby, another candidate, has the longest voting history of the four candidates, and currently serves on the City College Board of Trustees. She called Mahmood’s record “just ridiculous,” and said it’s “extremely disappointing that someone who wants to represent half of San Francisco has not been paying attention to politics, and hasn’t considered it important enough to vote.”
Campos declined to comment on Mahmood’s voting history.
Mahmood, a neuroscientist, has worked in tech startups and philanthropy. He has gotten endorsements from the South West Asian North African (SWANA) SF Democratic Club as well as organizations like Grow SF and SF YIMBY.
Bruce Cain, a political science professor at Stanford, noted similarities with other businesspeople who have run for public office including Meg Whitman in 2008 and 2012 and Al Checchi in 1998.
“What they had in common was that they were business executives who just assumed that they could transfer their business skills into politics,” Cain said.
Businesspeople sometimes believe they “represent something different than the messy political process,” he said. “Of course, they’re wrong.” He noted the importance of candidates starting in local politics and developing political skills that aren’t always obvious at the outset.
Mahmood is running on a platform supporting rapid housing development and addressing climate change, and has said he favors cutting of red tape and drawn-out processes which can slow progress on such priorities.
Many candidates running for office have been criticized based on their meager or nonexistent voting records, including Andrew Yang, who ran for president and New York City mayor.