SAN MATEO (BCN) – The city of San Mateo on Monday took its first step towards by-district elections, a move that would change how residents elect their councilmembers.

Under district-based elections, voters from each district in the city will vote on one councilmember who lives in that district to represent that district. Currently, the city of San Mateo has an at-large elections system, meaning that voters across the city, regardless of where they live, vote on each of the five city council members.

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Shifting to district elections would require the city to create a district map, assign election years to each district and hold public hearings to get feedback from the public.

The resolution adopted on Monday does not immediately establish by-district elections. With the resolution, the council signaled its intent to change its election system and has 90 days to finalize a district map and complete the transition.

However, the city will likely apply for an extension in order to get community feedback and incorporate data from the 2020 census.

City Attorney Prasanna Rasiah said during Monday’s meeting that the updated census data is very important when creating the district maps.

“Without that updated data, then the city would be looking at old data and then potentially having to draw maps using old data and then having to redo those maps using updated information,” Rasiah said.

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San Mateo is one of the latest cities to consider district-based elections after receiving a letter from attorney Scott Rafferty stating that its current at-large elections system could violate the California Voting Rights Act. Cities and school districts across California have received similar letters and have adopted district-based elections systems as a result.

A Voting Rights Act violation may occur if there is evidence of “racially polarized voting”, in which voters of a racial or language minority group show voting preferences that are different from the rest of the electorate, according to state law.

While the city does not believe the attorney’s letter provided sufficient evidence to support a Voting Rights Act violation, it could face a lawsuit unless it voluntarily changes its election system.

Councilmembers said they would not be willing to risk a lawsuit and the associated costs.

In a statement, Mayor Eric Rodriguez described the transition as “perhaps the most important shift in local City Council elections in San Mateo’s more than 125-year history.” He encouraged residents to get involved in the process.

More information is available online at https://www.cityofsanmateo.org/4537/District-Elections.

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