County Settles Lawsuit Brought by Asian and Latino Voters

A lawsuit filed in April 2011 over the manner by which members of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors are elected was resolved today when the Board together with Asian and Latino residents of the County agreed to a process for drawing district lines.

The prior system, challenged as discriminatory toward minority voters, provided for “at-large” elections in which voters throughout the County would cast votes for each of the five Supervisorial seats. Under the new district system (approved by County voters last November), candidates will run from one of five districts and only voters who live in a district can vote in the election for the Supervisor from that district.

Under the terms of the settlement, an independent committee will conduct a series of public meetings around the County to explain the district system and to receive community input as to where the boundaries of each district should be placed. The committee’s recommendation to the Board will reflect input from the community, as well as from an expert on districting, to ensure that the integrity of neighborhoods and communities of interests are protected.

Applications for membership on the nine-person committee, to be composed of public officials and private citizens reflecting the diversity of the County, will be vetted by the League of Women Voters.  The Committee members will be selected by the Board of Supervisors.  The committee will present its recommendations in time for consideration by the Board at its October 8, 2013, meeting.  Following that meeting, the Board of Supervisors will make a final decision on district configuration.

It is anticipated that the district boundaries will be formally in place in time for the June 2014 Board of Supervisor elections.

San Mateo County spokesperson Marshall Wilson commented: “While the Board of Supervisors firmly believes that the existing system of elections was fair and protected the rights of all voters in the County, those voters expressed a clear preference for district elections through Measure B.  Given the change in the law, it no longer made sense to defend the prior system.   Resolving the lawsuit thus allows the County to focus its efforts on developing the district based system chosen by the voters in a sensible manner that protects the right of all citizens to vote.”

Robert Rubin, a private civil rights attorney and co-lead counsel for the Asian and Latino voters, said:  “When Measure B passed, it removed San Mateo as the last remaining county in California to conduct elections for Supervisor through at-large voting, a system that can lead to the dilution of minority votes even if not adopted for that purpose.  Now that the voters have taken this historic step,” he said, “we welcome the County’s decision to avoid the expense and risks of trial and instead to play a constructive role in the districting process.”

“The change to district elections is a positive step toward realizing a Board that reflects the County’s diverse communities,” said Joseph Otayde, a plaintiff in the lawsuit and an elected official of the Jefferson Elementary School District.  “As we move forward with creating the districts, we hope that the communities of San Mateo will take part in this important process to make sure that their voices are heard.”

Beginning Monday, February 25th, members of the public who are interested in sitting on the committee will be able to obtain an application from the County Manager’s Office, located on the First Floor of the Hall of Justice, 400 County Center, Redwood City, CA 94063 or online at:  www.smcgov.org/districtlines.

In addition to Rubin, the plaintiff voters are represented by co-lead counsel Arnold & Porter LLP (Tracy Lane, Anton Ware and, formerly, Beth Parker), as well as the Asian Law Caucus (Christopher Punongbayan and Carolyn Hsu), and Joaquin Avila of the Seattle University School of Law.

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