Chaos reigns in the redistricting of San Francisco. Here’s a better way to do things

After nearly six months, San Francisco’s supposedly independent redistricting process was supposed to be complete. Instead, after escalating into intense partisan bickering, the city’s redistricting task force took the unprecedented step of rejecting its draft final plan and skipping the city’s deadline for setting new boundaries.

The working group voted 5-4 on April 13 to continue working on a map, and it plans to meet on Thursday to consider another draft. He was also sued for delay, which could lead to a judge setting new district boundaries.

San Francisco’s district-based electoral system requires redrawing supervisory boundaries every 10 years to account for changes in population to ensure that each district has roughly the same number of people. San Francisco is divided into 11 geographic districts. But many groups disagreed with the map drawn by the task force. And they went so far as to try to remove three task force members who supported him.

The new map must distribute San Francisco’s population fairly according to law. But this is accompanied by compromises which could modify the balance of power at the town hall. Progressives are particularly concerned about losing their right to vote.

Redistricting is necessary to ensure districts are equitably sized as populations change. But why do we divide people geographically? Can’t we find a better way to elect truly representative representatives without dividing people based on arbitrary maps?

Yes we can. And the solution is to adopt a method of election that results in what is called “proportional representation”. But to explain why this solution is the best, here is a little more about the current situation.

Unfortunately, there is no way to draw a map that can be truly fair in all constituencies; compromises are a necessity when trying to draw arbitrary boundaries across communities. Moreover, the districts fundamentally distort the functioning of the municipal administration. Supervisors in our system inevitably play the hot potato on the neighborhood that receives projects like homeless shelters, apartment buildings, and shopping malls.

So why do we do it this way?

Since 1900 for 1977, the city had no districts and elected supervisors “at-large” using block majority voting. This means: if there were five vacant seats, the voters had five votes, regardless of the number of candidates. However, the shortcoming of block majority voting is that it benefits majority voting blocks and can lead to little or no minority representation.

Imagine a city of 51% blue voters and 49% green voters with three vacant seats on their council. If every voter chooses their color, every blue candidate will win – now the board is 100% blue.

To better understand this problem, it is important to mention Supervisor Harvey Milk. He was elected in 1977 when San Francisco moved to a district election format similar to our current system which finally gave the Castro’s LGBTQ community a chance to be represented. After Milk was tragically murdered by former supervisor Dan White in 1978, voters repealed district electionswho, according to the New York Times, “helped put two blacks and a gay man on the board of supervisors.”

It wasn’t until 2000 that San Francisco readopted district elections.

But even well-meaning district elections still do not guarantee fair and equal representation for all. Geographically dispersed minority groups do not receive adequate representation, despite having sufficient population for a seat.

It’s not about building a better map — dividing communities is the problem itself.

Which brings us back to “proportional representation”.

Rather than drawing geographic constituencies, we can use the information provided by voters when they vote for candidates to group them into constituencies. This can ensure that the final board composition is representative. A group made up of 30% of the population should see 30% of the council seats. This is what proportional representation voting methods do.

The Asian American community is particularly disenfranchised by the proposed changes to voting cards. In the original final draft, the Asian American population drops 2.61% in District Seven (west of Twin Peaks) while the white population increases 2.42%. Small changes like these can impact the outcome of an election.

Rather than arbitrarily focusing on geography, proportional methods ensure a fully diverse board without carving up the city, further ghettoizing neighborhoods, and depriving others of development. It is a method that has ensured diversity and representation in 85 countries who adopted him.

Proportional representation is a goal and can be achieved through various methods.

My favorite method is proportional approval vote. Voters can choose as many candidates as they want on the ballot. The candidate with the most votes wins the first seat. As the voters of this seated candidate are represented, the voting power of their ballots is reduced. To determine who gets the next seat, the ballots are recounted and the candidate with the most votes is seated. The process repeats until all board seats are filled. The result is council that matches the city’s electoral demographics exactly, rather than a poor approximation.

Time will tell if it is politically viable to get rid of districts entirely, but an intermediate solution would be to add more supervisors to the board and elect those new members proportionally. This would retain our existing neighborhoods while ensuring a true representation of San Francisco’s diversity.

Félix Sargent is the president of the Center for Electoral Sciencea national non-profit organization whose mission is to provide citizens with methods of voting that strengthen democracy.


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