A judge Wednesday granted San Mateo County’s request to postpone a trial on the legality of its at-large system for electing supervisors, which critics contend is discriminatory because it dilutes the votes of minority residents. But in agreeing to wait until after the Nov. 6 election, Superior Court Judge Beth Freeman said the trial wouldn’t be moot even if residents approve a ballot measure to replace countywide supervisor elections with district elections. As civil rights lawyers who sued the county argued in their legal papers, “it is highly unlikely that the entire case would be moot if the voters approve district elections,” Freeman said in her ruling. “It is, however, quite clear that voter action would significantly affect the scope of the legal challenge and inform the court of the remedies remaining.” The lawsuit, filed in April 2011, contends that selecting supervisors countywide instead of by the districts they represent violates the California Voting Rights Act because that action weakens the voting power of Latino and Asian-American residents. Although each minority group makes up about one-quarter of the county’s population, there’s been only one Latino supervisor and no Asian-Americans since 1995, according to the lawsuit.
San Mateo is the only county in the state that elects supervisors countywide. The supervisors in June voted to put the question of district versus at-large elections on the ballot, after rejecting the idea two years earlier when it was suggested by a county charter review committee. Despite the about-face, a majority of supervisors said they still believe the current system better serves county residents because it forces them to consider everyone’s needs, not just those of the ones in their district.
In their motion to continue the trial until after the election, the county’s attorneys argued that if voters choose to switch to district elections, “this case will be rendered moot.” And if voters decide to continue with the current system, the voting patterns in the election “may be relevant evidence” that could be used in the trial, they said.