Balshone: Supervisors’ ugly act of indifference

By on Wed, July 14, 2010

Bruce Balshone, writing for the Examiner’s website, has written a good background piece on district elections for the Board of Supervisors and why this should have been a no-brainer.

Balshone covers the principal arguments for district elections: the County Civil Grand Jury has called for district elections, candidates for Supervisor must reach a voting base larger than a congressional district, the Board has history of using appointment rather than elections to fill vacant seats, and Board’s own Charter Review Committee recommended putting the issue on November’s ballot.

Then there’s the lawsuit that’s hanging over the board’s head:

In San Mateo County, the record of supervisorial elections is one of machine rule without contest. Over the past 30 years, according to county records, when incumbent supervisors run, approximately 50 percent of the time they are not even challenged. Worse yet, 86 percent of the time when incumbent supervisors run they face no competition or only token competition from protest candidates who rarely even mount a hint of a political campaign.

In April of this year, San Mateo County officials released a letter (see pages 23-24) from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a San Francisco-based civil rights legal foundation, informing the County that the civil rights organization may file a lawsuit against the County for potential violations of the California Voting Rights Act due to the County’s use of at-large elections for San Mateo County Supervisors. At large elections are commonly challenged due to their impact on minority communities whose voting power is diluted if they cannot directly elect representatives from their own communities—a pervasive problem for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors.

The truth is that the Board should have voted not merely to put the matter to the voters, where it may well have been defeated by the county machine, but simply to eliminate at-large elections.

We’ll be writing more about this, but Bruce’s piece is a good start.