San Mateo County residents will have the opportunity this fall to choose which election system they prefer for selecting candidates to the county board of supervisors.
The board unanimously voted Tuesday morning to introduce a ballot measure that will allow voters to choose a "by district" election system, or to remain with its "at-large" system.
The district system would empower residents within regional boundaries to select candidates that will best represent them.
San Mateo County is the only county in the state that currently allows supervisors to be selected "at large," in which candidates are elected county-wide without district distinctions.
In 2010, the board shot down the idea of floating a ballot measure that gave voters the chance to select the county election system.
But a lawsuit filed last August by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area challenged the board's decision, and claimed that county leadership is marginalizing the Asian and Latino voting populations by continuing to use the "at large" system.
The lawsuit cites that nearly half the county's residents are either Asian or Latino, yet neither group is represented on the county Board of Supervisors.
Opponents of the "at large" system believe that supervisors elected by district are more likely to better represent the residents of that region, which could empower members of groups that have historically been under represented in government.
Most supervisors defended the status quo but acknowledged a willingness to allow voters to choose which system they prefer.
"I'm not opposed to putting it on the November ballot, but I still believe this is the best opportunity for representation of all county residents," said Supervisor Rose Jacobs Gibson, who will leave her seat on the board in the coming election.
Those who defend the "at large" system believe that it encourages supervisors to be informed on county-wide issues, rather than only those that impact the district that they represent.
Supervisor Carole Groom expressed many of those same sentiments, but ultimately decided it would be best to allow the residents to decide.
"Lets put it on the ballot and lets ask the voters what their vision is," she said.
Voters have twice in the past chosen to stick with the "at large" system, in 1978 and again in 1980.
Supervisor Don Horsley, who also favors the "at large" system, agreed that voters should once again have the opportunity to choose.
"It is the right of the people to decide how they are governed," he said.
The proposed measure will come back to the board for a final approval in July, before ballot language is agreed upon and sent on to the county election officials for certification to go on the November 2012 election ballot.
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