San Mateo County Special Election: Tyranny of the Majority?

The phone is ringing with robo-calls and we’ve gotten a slew of election-related junk mail almost every day, but it’s not really election season. San Mateo County is holding a special election to fill a vacancy in a district that is not my own, yet because of our at-large voting rule, my neighbors and I have been asked to vote in this election, and put up with the election harassment that comes with even the most minor candidacy. It’s a colossal waste of money and voter attention.

The back story is that Mark Church resigned his supervisor position in November to take on the county assessor position. Also in November, the county passed Measure U, requiring an election and not an appointment to fill a seat vacated if under two years, nine months of a four year term. Since Church had only held the District 1 supervisor position for just under the Measure U time frame, an election had to be held to find his replacement. For whatever reason, San Mateo County is the only county in California still holding district-wide elections, which means that even though I don’t live in District 1, I get to weigh in on their supervisor. I also get to listen to, “Hello! This is (name of random county official I’ve never heard of) calling in support of (candidate who will mean nothing to me),” every second or third time I answer the phone. Looking at caller ID, yesterday we received five phone calls, three were about the election.

Here is why this is crazy:
1. It is a waste of money while schools and other services are suffering. The all-mail election will cost an estimated $1.1 million, which isn’t enough to fix the schools, but it sure may restore P.E. or some other aspect that is currently underfunded. I know that counties don’t fund public schools, but if there is money around, why not help kids or the community. Save Flood Park in Menlo Park. While $1.1 million isn’t a lot of money when the government is involved, that doesn’t include the hundred of thousands of dollars being spent on advertising and other costs of mounting a county-wide campaign. I don’t live in District 1, yet I’m factoring into the candidates’ campaign budgets.

2. County-wide elections for individual districts are illogical. Why should I get to say who’d represent the northern portion of the county when I don’t live there? If the elections are district-wide, then the supervisors should be too. Not that I support that. I worked for a San Francisco supervisor back when the city was also district-wide and constituents never knew who to call when they had a problem or a question (or more frequently, a rant that needed to be shared). Forget the issues of South San Francisco or San Bruno, the six candidates have to defend county pension positions in Menlo Park and health care costs in Redwood City. One argument is that this forces the supervisors to take a broader view than those of just their small district, but it also requires a lot more money to run a larger campaign, and it doesn’t necessarily translate into better representation. When the topic of Cargill Salt vs. wetlands restoration in Redwood City was mentioned at a debate, the candidates were reluctant to take a strong position, according to The Almanac:

“I would be really upset if another city council person or county supervisor told me what to do with our town before I had a chance,” [Candidate Terry] Nagel said. “I think you should trust in the local officials to do their jobs.”

3. It’s fueling election burn out. When the election mailings first began, my initial thought was, “Already? Really?” When the calls began and the junk mail piling up, I moved into annoyance. Every election season, I toy with the idea of pledging not to vote for anyone who robo-calls our house, but then that would rule out almost, if not all of the candidates. Once I realized the election was for one seat and I wasn’t in the actual jurisdiction anyway, the cynicism crept in.

One more week and it will be over, but for next time, there are better ways to elect a supervisor.

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