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County wants election lawsuit tossed
June 14, 2011, 03:47 AM Daily Journal Staff Report

San Mateo County’s charter requires elections be countywide rather than by district, a practice expressly permitted by the state Constitution, according to attorneys representing the county against a lawsuit seeking to abolish the existing practice.

The motion filed in San Mateo County Superior Court asks that a lawsuit filed in April be dismissed. A case management conference is currently scheduled for Aug. 10.

Attorneys for the county argue not only that at-large elections are allowed but that they contribute to the county’s success.

"San Mateo County is the only county in the state that elects supervisors countywide,” said attorney Joe Cotchett in a prepared statement. "And it’s no coincidence that San Mateo County is the best-managed county in the state of California with supervisors who are accountable to all voters.”

Under the current system, the five supervisors are elected by all voters but must live within the district they represent.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of six residents, claims the practice is inequitable to minorities and violates the California Voting Rights Act.

A 17-member charter review committee last year recommended voters decide the matter but the Board of Supervisors would not place the charter-changing question on the November ballot. Newly-elected Supervisor Dave Pine, a vocal opponent of countywide elections, sat on the committee. The majority consensus of the Board of Supervisors last fall was that limiting elections to a specific district would not necessarily improve representation or limit the cost of campaigning.

The dismissal motion points out that county voters have affirmed countywide voting in 1932, 1978 and 1980.

The county is now seeking to uphold its constitutional rights by maintaining the current system which is allowed by the state, said attorney James Wagstaffe in an announcement of the motion.

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