Ensuring A Representative Democracy Through Measure B

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November 18, 2012

Why voting YES on Measure B’s district elections is good for everyone.

By Hyeon-Ju Rho, Executive Director

In a county as large and diverse as San Mateo, many voices are unheard in the current at-large system, and it is time to change that by voting YES on Measure B.

San Mateo County is one of the most diverse counties in the nation: fifty-five percent of San Mateo residents are people of color; its residents are rich, poor, and middle class; and from the Filipino enclave in Daly City to the Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park and the seaside businesses of Half Moon Bay, it is home to forty distinctive cities and communities. Passing Measure B will convert elections to a system based on districts, which will allow representatives to better reflect the rich diversity of the county.

A district system will also help ensure that representatives are responsive to local needs. A Board of Supervisors elected by districts will work for you because your representatives will reside in your district and are in a better position to understand the problems that exist in your community, before they get out of control.  For example, if you live in San Bruno and are concerned about preventing another pipeline rupture like the one that occurred in 2010, or if you live in Palo Alto or Menlo Park and are worried about the impact of Silicon Valley businesses on your neighborhood, your Supervisor is more likely to relate to your concerns because they live in your community.

San Mateo is the only county of the 58 counties in California that elects their County Supervisors by an at-large system in which every voter in the county can vote for each of the five seats on the Board of Supervisors.  This is in comparison to every other county that uses a district system, meaning each voter can vote for one Supervisor who resides in their district and represents that specific district on the Board.  One of the most obvious consequences of the at-large systemis the lack of diverse representation on the Board.  Although Asians and Latinos each comprise about 25% of the population in the county, only one Latino and no Asian has occupied a seat on the Board of Supervisors since at least 1995.  Those opposing Measure B argue that “we’re better because we’re different.”  However, where the county lacks equal representation for all residents, it can never be better unless we make those necessary improvements.

Furthermore, district elections will unify and empower San Mateo residents because each Supervisor will be accountable to the people living in his or her own district, and not to political or economic interests.  In comparison to an at-large system, a district system reduces the cost needed to run a successful campaign, which is prohibitive for most people who are unable fund their campaign with personal loans or loans from wealthy donors.  District elections will encourage more qualified candidates to enter the race.  By leveling the candidate playing field for all San Mateo residents, a district system will encourage greater participation and increase voter turnout.

Under the current at-large system, too many voices in the community have gone unheard.  Changing a system of government should generally be done to improve representation of, and access to, the political process.  Measure B will do just that by providing equal and fair political representation for all its residents and encouraging more responsiveness and accountability.  It is time for San Mateo to move forward with the rest of the state and make a change for district elections.

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