After being served a letter threatening litigation over its election process, Montara Water and Sanitary District will consider whether switching to district-based elections would improve representation for minority voters.

The change would switch MWSD’s elections system from at-large voting, in which residents elect board members to represent the entire region, to district-based, meaning board members would be elected by and represent individual neighborhoods within the district.

At a board meeting last week, district representatives chose to begin studying the issue and asking for public input before deciding whether to change elections processes. Board members, including President Scott Boyd, said they want more time to look into how drawing up district maps and changing representation would affect the Midcoast community.

“I'm not interested in taking the ‘safe harbor’ if it would harm the community it intends to help,” Boyd said.

Normally, the district would have just 45 days since receipt of the letter to declare its intention to switch to district-based voting. But it may have some wiggle room under new state rules during the COVID-19 pandemic which extend a “safe harbor” period to some deadlines. By taking more time, officials run the risk of being sued. But waiting for the latest U.S. Census data and exploring the data on minority representation in the district is worth it, members said.

“I’d like to see the numbers first,” said board member Kathryn Slater-Carter.

One concern board members shared is that district-based elections could disincentivize prospective board members from campaigning to the entire

district and may pigeon-hole them into special interests. The costs are also a problem, as MWSD would have to hire a demographer to draw new lines every 10 years.

According to a letter from district’s general counsel Christine Fitzgerald, MWSD will have until June 27 to make a decision about redistricting. Until then, the board plans to start public outreach to study how a new system might affect diversity and voting opportunities for minorities.

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