San Mateo County’s election process challenged 

At-large elections in San Mateo County dilute votes of minorities, according to a group of lawyers demanding county officials change voting practices.

Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights is threatening litigation against San Mateo County unless the county agrees to discuss the possibility for change from at-large elections to district elections of representatives.

“It dilutes the votes of minorities,” Robert Rubin, legal director for the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, said of the at-large elections. “With district elections, there is less people in the county to compete with and the candidate will be more in tune with the community needs.”

The committee sent a letter to the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors last week demanding the change stating at-large elections violates the California Voters Act.

According to the act, passed in 2001, at-large elections may not be held if they prohibit a protected population, such as minorities, from electing their candidates of choice.

“Given the significant number of minority citizen voting age residents, we believe that the county’s use of an at-large election system dilutes the vote of minority residents,” the letter stated.

Rubin said roughly 44 percent of San Mateo County’s population is minority and, in the past 150 years, only two supervisors were minorities.

The amount of money spent on elections that are countywide rather than districtwide prohibits certain people from running, Rubin said.

The county has until April 30 to respond to the letter.

“If they don’t even respond to the letter, we will seriously consider going forward with a lawsuit,” he said. “It will strongly indicate they are not interested in talking.”

Supervisor Rich Gordon said he had received the letter, but no official statement will come from the county until after a closed-session meeting expected to happen Tuesday.

Before receiving the letter, the county was reviewing its charter.

Dave Pine, a member of the charter review committee, said he is in favor of district elections because it will add more competition.

“Under a countywide system, we don’t have enough competitive elections and good candidates are discouraged from running,” he said.

akoskey@sfexaminer.com

 

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