Why Supervisors should be elected by district In San Mateo County

Letter

Posted by
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.

 


“a.  Facts:
  * Only 1 in 5 supervisorial elections have been competitive in the last 30 years.
  * There has not been a competitive supervisor election in San Mateo County for over 10 years.

“Competitive” is a characterization/adjective /opinion, and not fact. Perhaps you could quantify what you mean by competitive.

As Sgt Joe Friday remarked, “just the facts, ma’am”.

  *  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:

  * Non-white candidates rarely run and only one has been elected in the last 30 years.

What the… why the race card?

Your first bullet is on size of constituency.
Your second bullet is on cost for a mailer (who reads those anyways?)
Your third bullet is about cost… and I think I’m at that point about to understand why… actually, no… I don’t.

Did you need to drop the race card at some point, and there was a good consequence? Shameful. Facts and consequences thereof… lordy. What next subsidize campaigns for all with stimulus money, replete with affirmative action in tow?

Comment 3
Fri, February 5, 2010 7:22am
Barry Parr
All my comments

Kevin, do you support the current at-large system for electing Supervisors? If so, I’d be interested in hearing a defense of the system from you or anyone else who thinks it works.

Race: Wikipedia says the racial makeup of the county was 46.1% White, 3.51% Black or African American, 0.44% Native American, 20.04% Asian, 1.5% Pacific Islander, 8.4% from other races, and 3.9% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 23.4% of the population.

You don’t have to play the race card to say that the ethnic makeup of the board is only one symptom of a broken democratic system.

Costs: The cost of a mailer is a guide to the cost of campaigning in a district with nearly a million residents, not a recommended campaign technique. How do you reach a million people?

Competitive elections: I agree that the point has not been proven, but can you think of a race for supervisor in the last 10 years that you would consider competitive? I can’t.

LA Times -  September 25, 2008 - By Mitchell Landsberg

Election nullified before the vote
Judge says its at-large provision works against Latinos in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

A judge in Central California has taken the unusual step of tossing out, in advance, the results of an upcoming school board election after finding that it violated the terms of the California Voting Rights Act.

Madera County Superior Court Judge James E. Oakley concluded Tuesday that at-large elections for three school board seats put Latino candidates at a disadvantage and should be replaced by elections in which the board is divided into districts, according to spokesmen for the Madera Unified School District and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights, which demanded the change.

Because ballots have already been printed, the school board race will still be included on the Nov. 4 ballot in Madera but will not be certified by the county clerk. A special election will be scheduled, probably to coincide with the general election next June.

“This is a historic decision,” Robert Rubin, legal director of the San Francisco-based lawyers group, said Wednesday. “This is the first time that a court has enjoined an election, at least under this law. And it hopefully will send a signal to other jurisdictions around the state that discriminatory election systems will not be tolerated.”

The Lawyers Committee sued the school district in August, complaining that although 82% of its 18,500 students are Latino, only one Latino sits on the seven-member school board, and only one other Latino has served on the board in the last 25 years. Since 1996, Rubin said, Latinos have run for school board eight times, but in all but one case have been defeated by what he called “Anglo bloc voting.”

Because many Latinos are not citizens or are too young to vote, only 44% of Madera’s eligible voting population is Latino, giving whites a majority. Rubin said his group favors a system of voting districts that would include at least three with Latino majorities.

A spokesman for the district, Jake Bragonier, said the board did not oppose the judge’s injunction but did not acknowledge wrongdoing. “It was essentially a business decision,” he said. “If we want to fight this, we’re going to be paying a lot of money one way or the other – even if we win.”

Earlier this year, the city of Modesto settled a voting rights case with the Lawyers Committee over at-large elections for City Council, agreeing to pay $3 million in legal fees. Since March, Rubin said, the committee has threatened to sue 20 to 25 jurisdictions throughout the state that hold at-large elections in which Latinos appear to be at a disadvantage.