Changing the way we elect county supes
Unlike every other county in California, San Mateo County holds county-wide elections for supervisors. Though candidates must live in the district they would represent, they win the seat in a county-wide — not a district — election.
This system should not change, said a majority of volunteers on a committee that's been considering whether county supervisors should be elected by district.
Despite that opinion, the committee decided the question should be put to a vote of the people in November.
The group met on April 21 in the Menlo Park City Council chambers and its conclusions will be forwarded in June to the Board of Supervisors , which will decide whether to put the proposal on the November 2010 ballot.
The committee's mission arose from complaints in a 2008-09 grand jury report critical of the electoral advantages enjoyed by candidates appointed to the Board of Supervisors after a sitting supervisor vacates a seat.
Go to is.gd/bDWUI (case-sensitive) to read the report.
Asked to go on the record with their opinions, 11 members expressed support for the current "at large" elections, four supported "by district" elections, and one gave no opinion. The committee voted 14 to 2 to recommend that the question be put on the ballot in November.
It would not be the first time. Voters rejected by-district elections in 1978 and 1980 by majorities of 52 and 57 percent, respectively.
Go to is.gd/bDWkf (case-sensitive) for brief descriptions of committee members and how they came to be members.
This was the committee's eighth meeting, with five more ahead. They will have more to say, including on how to fill a vacant seat.
Need a silver bullet
In support of keeping the elections county-wide, advocates focused in part on what by-district elections would not accomplish.
Ethnic diversity is a concern, but by-district elections "won't guarantee that minorities would win," San Mateo resident Carol Boes said. Besides, she added, supervisors need a regional outlook.
Campaigning is expensive and open to the well-connected, but a by-district election "does not guarantee" that qualified candidates would be elected, Daly City resident Dolores "Dee" Canepa said.
The county should provide matching funds, Ms. Canepa said, adding that candidates today can campaign inexpensively via Facebook and Twitter.
By-district elections might add local focus to a supervisor's attention, but voters already have such focus in city councils and commissions, "places where you get more bang for the buck," said San Mateo resident Kathy Everitt.
To diversify the board, San Mateo resident Shelley Kessler said, candidates from underrepresented communities might be recruited, and well-connected candidates might be persuaded not to run.
Complaints about under-representation "kind of saddened" Cary Wiest, an unincorporated community resident who said he thinks such critiques do not reflect the larger reality.
More is better
Woodside Mayor Dave Burow, who said he prefers a proportional system in which voters get one vote for each candidate running and can use the votes as they choose, also said he would support district elections even though they may not actually result in more diversity on the board or more competitive elections.
Henry Organ of Menlo Park, the only non-white committee member, also supported by-district elections.
Had the committee been more ethnically diverse, its conclusions might have been different, he said.
Also supporting by-district elections was Dave Pine, board president of the San Mateo High School District. "To my mind, there's no question that by-district elections move the ball forward," he said. "More elections mean more dialog and that's fundamental. That's what democracy is about."
Would such elections push a supervisor away from regional interests? Occasionally, Mr. Pine admitted. If someone is proposing a jail be built in a district, the supervisor for that district would likely fight it but, he told the committee, "that's not parochialism, that's representation."