San Mateo County is the only county out of 58 in California that elects its Board of Supervisors in countywide elections. Every other county in the state elects supervisors within individual districts. County voters have an opportunity to end countywide elections and replace them with district elections by approving Measure B on the ballot this November.
District elections for county supervisors is the better choice as they promote more competition, accountability and citizen involvement and also lower taxpayer costs.
Countywide elections heavily favor politically connected and well-funded candidates and incumbents. In San Mateo County, with over 330,000 voters, a supervisor campaign is a particularly time consuming and expensive undertaking as it is similar in scope to running for Congress. Given the obstacles to running, the vast majority of San Mateo County supervisor races are uncontested or uncompetitive.
With district elections, approximately 66,000 voters in each of the county’s five supervisorial districts would choose their own representative. This would attract more candidates to run as they could reach voters through grass roots campaigning without having to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. District elections would also increase the likelihood that the diversity of the county will be better reflected among the candidates and on the Board of Supervisors.
District elections allow voters to hold incumbents accountable. With countywide elections that is all but impossible. In fact, over the last 30 years no incumbent supervisor has ever lost when standing for reelection, and only on one occasion has an incumbent even faced a credible challenger.
District elections would bring government and democracy closer to home and increase awareness of county issues. A closer relationship between county government and voters is essential as today county government is largely invisible to the public despite overseeing a $1.8 billion dollar budget and having responsibility for a multitude of critical services.
District elections would also yield savings to taxpayers. When a special election is held to fill a vacant seat – as has occurred three times since 1993 – with district elections many hundreds of thousands of dollars will be saved.
The benefits of district elections were recently supported by the San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury which in 2009 issued a formal recommendation to the Board of Supervisors requesting the change now on the ballot.
Opponents of district elections claim that such elections will result in parochialism and in-fighting among county supervisors. But most issues addressed by supervisors do not pit areas of the county against each other. For example, providing access to healthcare and ensuring public safety – the primary efforts undertaken by county government - are of countywide importance and district elections would rarely lead to differences of opinion among supervisors based solely on where they live.
Moreover, in the event of an occasional policy decision in which a supervisorial district might be affected disproportionately, it is absolutely appropriate for a supervisor to advocate vigorously on behalf of district residents. That is the essence of representative democracy.
Opponents also claim that district elections will increase the influence of “special interests,” but the opposite is true. District elections offer voters a greater voice in electing their representatives by allowing grass roots candidates the opportunity to compete. Voters are not a “special interest.” They are the only interest that matters.
Finally, opponents argue that with countywide elections every voter in the county plays a role in electing every supervisor, thereby increasing accountability. But with so many uncompetitive or simply uncontested supervisorial elections, voters today have few chances to determine who represents them.
It’s long past time for San Mateo County to adopt district elections as have all the other counties in California.
Empower voters. Vote YES on Measure B.
For more information please visit: https://sitesgoogle.com/site/
Virginia Chang Kiraly
Former San Mateo County Civil Grand Jury Foreperson
Mayor, City of East Palo Alto
Peter I. Ohtaki
Vice Mayor, City of Menlo Park
San Mateo County Supervisor
Councilmember, City of Burlingame
Vice Mayor, City of South San Francisco
Mayor, City of San Carlos
Vice-Mayor, City of San Mateo
School Board Member, Jefferson Union High School District
Mayor, City of Belmont