The lawsuit filed in April 2011 that labeled the county’s “at-large” election system discriminatory was resolved by the passage of Measure B in November when residents voted to overturn the system.
The “at-large” system previously allowed all county residents to vote for a district supervisor despite not living in that district. Asian and Latino residents believed it was discriminatory because the elected supervisor did not fairly represent their constituents. Under the new district system, candidates will run from one of five districts and only voters who live in a district can vote in the election for the Supervisor from that district.
“When Measure B passed, it removed San Mateo as the last remaining county in California to conduct elections for Supervisor through at-large voting, a system that can lead to the dilution of minority votes even if not adopted for that purpose,” said Robert Rubin, a private civil rights attorney and co-lead counsel for the Asian and Latino voters. “Now that the voters have taken this historic step, we welcome the County’s decision to avoid the expense and risks of trial and instead to play a constructive role in the districting process.”
“The change to district elections is a positive step toward realizing a Board that reflects the County’s diverse communities,” said Joseph Otayde, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and an elected official of the Jefferson Elementary School District. “As we move forward with creating the districts, we hope that the communities of San Mateo will take part in this important process to make sure that their voices are heard.”
Under the terms of the settlement, an independent committee will conduct a series of public meetings around the County to explain the district system and to receive community input as to where the boundaries of each district should be placed. The committee’s recommendation to the Board will reflect input from the community, as well as from an expert on districting, to ensure that the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interests are protected.
The nine-person committee will comprise of public officials and private citizens to reflect the diversity of the county and will be vetted by the League of Women Voters. The Board of Supervisors will ultimately select the committee members.
The committee will present its recommendations in time for consideration by the Board at its October 8, 2013, meeting. Following that meeting, the Board of Supervisors will make a final decision on district configuration.
It is anticipated that the district boundaries will be formally in place in time for the June 2014 Board of Supervisor elections.
“While the Board of Supervisors firmly believes that the existing system of elections was fair and protected the rights of all voters in the County, those voters expressed a clear preference for district elections through Measure B,” said San Mateo County spokesman Marshall Wilson. “Resolving the lawsuit thus allows the County to focus its efforts on developing the district based system chosen by the voters in a sensible manner that protects the right of all citizens to vote.”
On Monday, Feb. 25, members of the public can obtain an application from the County Manager’s Office, located on the First Floor of the Hall of Justice, 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063 or online at: www.smcgov.org/districtlines.
Tell us in the comments below: Did you think the previous "at-large" election system was discriminatory?