Q. What is the difference between district elections and the current at-large or countywide system of electing San Mateo County Supervisors?

A. At present, San Mateo County Supervisors must run for election throughout the entire county even though each Supervisor must reside in one of five supervisorial districts (see map for reference). Under a district-based system, County Supervisors will run in only one of five smaller districts in San Mateo County.

Q. Why should Supervisors be elected by District In San Mateo County?

A.  Under the current system of countywide elections, San Mateo County rarely has competitive elections to select its supervisors. Consider these facts.

     In County Supervisor Races From 1978 – 2012:

        i.         Only 1 in 5 supervisorial elections have been competitive in the last 34 years.

        ii.         No incumbent supervisor has been unseated in the last 30 years.

        iii.         Almost half of all County Supervisor elections are uncompetitive or simply uncontested.

        iv.         Until 2010, there had not been a competitive County Supervisor election in San Mateo County since 1997.

Q. Do competitive elections for County Supervisor matter?

A. Without competitive elections for San Mateo County Supervisors there is minimal discussion of important county issues particularly as it relates to the $1.8 Billion County Budget and local citizens are deprived of an opportunity to express their voice on these issues. As a consequence, citizens are disconnected from County government.

Q. How do at-large elections undermine competition?

A. Under the current system, the barriers to entry for candidates to run a credible campaign for supervisor are extremely high.

Consider these facts:

       i.         To run for supervisor a candidate must appeal to a similar number of voters to a candidate running for U.S. Congress.

       ii.         To reach one third of the electorate with one campaign mailer (approximately 120,000 voters) costs at least $60,000 (i.e. $0.50 per mail piece).

       iii.         The costs to run a credible campaign give incumbents an enormous advantage and as a result they are almost never seriously challenged.

Q. What is the consequence of such a lack of competition?

A. Without competition, the pool of potential local leaders is extremely small and determined more by political connections and fundraising capacity than by the voters. Capable local city council members, school board members and activists rarely run against an incumbent.

       ii.         Non-white candidates rarely run and only one has been elected in the last 30 years.  One other was appointed.  This gives rise to potential legal exposure under the California Voting Rights Act and the Madera case.

                 iii.         Even when a supervisor seat is open, the necessity of raising an significant amount of money (at least $100,000), and appealing for support countywide, discourages good people from running.

Q. How would district elections improve representation?

A. Today, candidates for supervisor run countywide but must reside in the district they wish to represent. Presumably, the purpose of this approach is to ensure that the citizens of each district have a designated supervisor to call on to assist them in addressing local concerns. Such a dynamic would be strengthened if a supervisor was compelled to face the voters every four years with a real possibility of a credible challenger running against them from within the district.

Under the current at-large system, there is rarely a competitive election and in many instances totally uncontested elections.