By CAROLYN HSU AND JOANNA E. CUEVAS INGRAM
Read the original article at San Jose Mercury News.
On Tuesday, the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors will consider the boundary lines that will determine each supervisorial district, hopefully putting in place a fair and lawful election system after years of legal challenges. The board faces a stark choice: Will it empower our communities by voting for a map that has been vetted through a public process, or will it ignore the public’s input and draw district lines to ensure its own political survival?
This is not the first time the board has been in this position. In 2009, the board rejected the civil grand jury’s recommendation to change the county’s at-large election system, and the county paid the price. The grand jury argued that San Mateo remained the only county in California that elected its supervisors at-large, that district elections encouraged greater responsiveness from supervisors who live in the district they represent, and that obviating the need to raise funds for a countywide campaign encouraged more diverse candidates to run.
Indeed, only one Latino and no Asian American has ever been elected to the board, despite the groups together constituting over 50 percent of the county’s population. As a result of the board’s refusal to act on the grand jury’s recommendation, the disenfranchised communities, represented by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area, Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus, Arnold & Porter, and the Law Office of Robert Rubin, had no option but to file suit. With pressure building from the lawsuit, the board in 2012 finally allowed the people to vote on the issue, and the measure to bring district elections to San Mateo passed with overwhelming support.
Following the change to district elections, a settlement agreement was reached, with the board agreeing to create an advisory committee that would oversee a community-led district line drawing process.
The process has been a model of civic engagement. Comprised of nine members—two board members, two city council members and five residents from around the county—the committee hired a professional demographer to help draft district lines, an outreach consultant to encourage civic engagement, a videographer and court reporter to ensure transparency, and interpreters to translate for non-English speaking residents. Over the course of the last six months, the committee met 10 times (twice in each of the county’s districts) after work hours to maximize the number of residents who could attend. These efforts were successful, and community members en masse submitted testimony to the committee in person, online and by mail. Residents testified about their dynamic histories, the vibrancy of their unique communities and the many policy concerns their neighborhoods share. Based on this input, draft maps were created, debated and revised, and as a result of this democratic process the committee recommended three maps that best protected the county’s many diverse communities, prioritizing to the board the collectively-drawn Community Unity Map.
As in any redistricting process, good governance principles discourage elected officials from having the ultimate authority in determining their own electoral lines. We urge the board not to give way to political survival instincts, but to put first what is best for the county by voting for a map that has been approved by the people.
The recommended maps and other information can be viewed at: www.smcdistrictcommittee.org.
Carolyn Hsu is a staff attorney for Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Asian Law Caucus; Joanna E. Cuevas Ingram is an Equal Justice Voting Rights Fellow, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area