Regarding Mark Simon’s April 16 column on district elections: See this study of over 7,000 cities (jstor.org/stable/25193833?seq=1) which found that districts somewhat improve representation for African American men; and that’s it. No improvement for other minorities, or for women, who are generally evenly distributed — you can’t draw a “women’s district.” In an at-large election, if 51% of the voters like candidates A and B and 49% like C and D, A and B win. Half of voters are out of luck. With districts, you can still end up with A beating C in district 1, and B beating D in district 2.

To improve representation, not in the tokenistic sense, but maximizing the people whose votes elect a councilmember, what you want is Proportional Representation. The Center for Election Science, a non-profit think-tank, advocates Proportional Approval Voting (electionscience.org/voting-methods/getting-proportional-with-approval-voting). The ballot is simple — vote up or down on each candidate. This can be implemented using existing machines, for free: just list each candidate like a ballot measure. Tabulation requires a little math, but it’s easy enough to work out on a blackboard. It’s based on a design from Thomas Jefferson that was used in the first apportionment of House seats.

In a proportional system, every vote has equal weight. If broadly adopted, in addition to improving racial diversity, we would see greater ideological diversity. I believe on principle that Silicon Valley Republicans and Libertarians and Central Valley Democrats and Greens, all deserve to be heard.

Auros Harman

San Bruno

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(3) comments

Christopher Conway

When will the left realize we vote for who is the best person for the job, not what color skin they are. Stop bring race into problems and join the rest of America.


The problem is that when we use districts with the current “choose one” system we often get spoilers. Many winners of board seats win with less than 50%, and dividing up our cities only works to deepen poor relations by formally setting up a “wrong side of the tracks”

Proportional Representation is more fair, and represents all forms of minorities, not just racial ones.


Christopher, I would consider myself part of the left, broadly speaking (although I do have some libertarian leanings on particular topics). I just think we need to think about representation more broadly than counting noses. Redwood City is being pushed into districts by one of these CVRA lawsuits, and current minority-group council members come from locations that are going to leave them cut out from the new "official" minority districts. It's kind of a mess. Meanwhile, here in San Bruno, we actually have four Hispanic councilmembers out of five. (Linda Mason doesn't have an obviously-Hispanic name, but IIRC her parents are Mexican immigrants.) I suppose we might currently have under-representation for the Asian community, but OTOH Ken Ibarra was vice-mayor quite recently, and I'm extremely skeptical that being from an Asian community would be a relevant disadvantage in our elections.

Generally I believe a proportional system will do a better job at giving _everyone_ a shot at getting somebody they like elected. With districts, you lower the number of people a candidate needs to reach out to in order to build a coalition, but a proportional system offers all of the advantages, while giving you more diverse paths to victory. You _can_ put together a coalition based on solidarity in a geographic community / neighborhood. But you can also appeal based on any other kind of affinity, whether that's some kind of identity group, a professional identification (e.g. a teacher running on a platform of improving the schools, or a successful tech executive running on the appeal of upgrading the city's technical infrastructure), or... You name it. And I suspect most of our towns do have a large enough libertarian-ish contingent that folks like you would get to elect somebody to be your voice for restraint and fiscal rectitude.

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