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Op-Ed: 'At-Large' Elections vs. By District

Measure B would change the way San Mateo County elects its county supervisors by changing its elections from at-large to by district. One reader urges everyone to vote no.

Op-Ed: 'At-Large' Elections vs. By District

 You have a right to choose your county supervisor - someone who will represent you, someone who will vigorously advocate for your interests and opinions.

Your neighbors should not be allowed to override your choice, giving you a fake representative who disagrees with you. Elections should be about you choosing the person that will represent you, not about deciding whether or not you get representation. A better, representative democracy requires representation for all.

Measure B is not the change we need. Changing from at-large elections to district elections for county supervisors is a distraction that only moves us from one bad option to another.

Both district elections and the current at-large elections fail to guarantee voters the representation and voting rights we deserve. Both systems are exclusionary by design. Both can leave about half of us without our chosen representative. Both systems insulate incumbents from competition. Both systems undermine majority rule.

The California state legislature and Congress use district elections and they have very low approval ratings with voters. Why the dysfunction? Much of the problem can be traced to the the fundamental failure of single-winner, winner-take-all elections in giving voters real representation.

San Mateo County should not follow that path.

You would not be satisfied going to a restaurant that got your order wrong half the time, and did not correct the problem, but still made you pay. Do not be satisfied with elections that perform that poorly either.

District elections allow incumbents and the courts to gerrymander voting districts, manipulating which voters get representation. That robs voters of their rightful decision making power. Voters should choose their county supervisors, not the other way around. Your ability to choose should not be compromised by artificial geographic boundaries or by institutionalized racial and ethnic stereotypes.

A much fairer way to elect county supervisors would ensure that any group of like- minded voters comprising one-fifth of the voters would elect one of the five county supervisors. Multi-winner, ranked-choice voting - also known as choice voting - is a good way to do that. Such proportional representation ensures voting rights much better than district elections can. California voters prefer proportional representation. It works in other communities, such as Cambridge, Massachusetts. It can work in San Mateo County.

San Mateo County has been sued for conducting illegal elections, for violating the California Voting Rights Act. Those are serious allegations. We should not be sweeping those problems under the rug. Our self-governance would benefit from a complete and fair examination of those issues. Measure B will not allow that to happen. We should then look for 21st-century solutions that ensure universal voting rights.

District elections are limited, stopgap interventions from the 1960s that we should avoid.

If county supervisors had acted when the 2009 civil grand jury alerted the county to voting rights problems, we could have had proportional representation for 2012. Instead, we are likely to get district elections in the short-term, regardless of whether Measure B passes or fails. Voter-approved district elections will only delay the change we deserve.

To learn more about the failures of district elections, about Measure B, and about representation for all, visit www.rep4all.org.

Vote NO on Measure B.

David Cary has been a resident of San Mateo County for nearly 20 years, and is a board member and secretary of Californians for Electoral Reform, a nonpartisan, statewide organization that works to improve how voters are represented in government at all levels.

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