Why Supervisors should be elected by district In San Mateo County


By on Thu, February 4, 2010

1.  Under the current system of countywide elections, San Mateo County rarely has competitive elections to select its supervisors

a.  Facts:

  • Only 1 in 5 supervisorial elections have been competitive in the last 30 years.
  • An incumbent supervisor has been unseated only one time in the last 30 years
  • Almost half of the time (49%), there are no elections at all.
  • There has not been a competitive supervisor election in San Mateo County for over 10 years.
  • The last five open supervisor seats were filled without an election

b.  Consequences:

  • There is no discussion of important County issues
  • Citizens are deprived of an opportunity to express their voice on these issues
  • As a consequence, citizens are disconnected from County government

2.  Under the current system, the barriers to entry for candidates to run a credible campaign for supervisor are extremely high

a.  Facts:

  • To run for supervisor a candidate must appeal to more voters than a candidate running for congress.
  • To reach one third of the electorate with one mailer (approximately 130,000 voters) costs at least $65,000 (i.e. $0.50 per mail piece).
  • The costs to run a credible campaign give incumbents an enormous advantage and as a result they are almost never seriously challenged.

b.  Consequences:

  • Capable local city council members, school board members and activists rarely run against an incumbent.
  • Non-white candidates rarely run and only one has been elected in the last 30 years.
  • Even when a supervisor seat is open, the necessity of raising an significant amount of money (at least $100,000) and appealing for support countywide discourages good people from running.

3.  Under the current system, it is not feasible to hold supervisors accountable

  • At the local level, city council incumbents are voted out of office when a challenger offers a new agenda or has concerns with the direction of the city
  • In the last 30 years, in only one of 31 opportunities (3.2%) has a challenger unseated an incumbent supervisor.
  • As a result, the electorate does not have the ability to hold supervisors accountable.

4.  San Mateo County’s costs for administering district elections would be significantly lower than today’s costs

  • Today, each time there is a supervisor election (held in even years alternating between 2 seats and 3 seats up for election) the County must pay for the costs of administering a countywide election with approximately 390,000 total registered voters).
  • With district elections, the County would only have to administer an election in individual districts with approximately 78,000 voters each.
  • With district elections, it would cost one fifth as much to hold a special election to fill a vacated supervisor seat.

5.  District elections would give meaning to district representation

  • Today supervisor candidates run countywide, but are not elected at large.  Instead the county charter requires that there be one supervisor from each of five districts so that the interests of each district are represented by an elected supervisor.
  • The quality of the representation of each district would be strengthened if a supervisor had to face the voters every four years when there was possibility of a challenger mounting a credible campaign.

6.  San Mateo County is the only county of the 58 counties in California that elects its supervisors in countywide elections.

  • Tehama County (which has 59,000 residents spread over 2,000 square miles) used to elect supervisors countywide, but in November 2008 the voters approved a county charter change providing for supervisors to be elected by district.
  • Why should San Mateo County be different?
  • Looking to San Francisco as an example of how district elections can lead to local interests trumping what’s best for the county as a whole is inappropriate for two reasons:
    • San Francisco is a county and a city.
    • San Francisco’s has demographics and a level of political activism that is unlike any of the other 56 counties that also elect supervisors through district elections.