By Chris Cooney
Bay City News Service
A countywide measure that could change the way San Mateo County elects members of its Board of Supervisors is headed for the ballot in the November election.
The board voted unanimously on Tuesday (June 26) to adopt an ordinance for the Nov. 6 ballot that will ask voters to amend the San Mateo County Charter by changing the mode of electing individual supervisors from countywide "at-large" elections to "by-district" elections.
County Counsel John Beiers said the issue has been at "the forefront of political discussion," due in part to a lawsuit filed against the Board of Supervisors alleging that at-large elections discriminate against minorities in district communities by making it more difficult for lower-income minority residents to choose their own candidates or run for county office.
San Mateo County is currently the only county in California that continues to hold at-large elections for its Board of Supervisors.
In 2010, a Charter Review Committee recommended that the Board of Supervisors put the question of district elections on the ballot.
Supervisors rejected the recommendation, arguing that county voters had twice voted down the change in 1978 and 1980, and that at-large elections better served the common interests of the entire county.
Board president Adrienne Tissier, who was on the board in 2010 and voted to keep at-large elections, said she still agrees with the system, but wanted to bring the issue back "to let the electorate determine whether or not it's the right decision."
Ms. Tissier said that public discussion of the issue and the board's newest members who were elected since 2010 -- Supervisors Dave Pine and Don Horsely -- helped motivate the decision to bring the issue back for the board's consideration and the public's vote.
Mr. Pine, who served on the Charter Review Committee that recommended an election on the issue in 2010, said that by-district elections would encourage a more diverse pool of candidates to run for office and more competitive elections.
"I've been a longtime advocate for district elections," he said. "I do support the idea of it going to the voters."
Supervisor Carole Groom, who also voted to keep the current system in 2010, said she still thinks the county is better governed by supervisors who are elected by the entire county, but supports the notion of giving the voters a chance to decide.
"Let's put it on the ballot and let's ask the voters what their preference is," Ms. Groom said.