Diversity of electeds: Elected officials should reflect the diversity of the population.

Insights & Analyses

  • While the region is 60 percent people of color, people of color hold just 29 percent of top local elected offices.

  • Regionwide, men are overrepresented in top elected positions, but women have gained ground, increasing their share of seats to 44 percent as of February 2020, from 40 percent in May 2018.

  • APIs and Latinos continue to be sorely underrepresented among local electeds, especially at the county level. Latinx and APIs make up half of the region’s population but are just 13 percent of top county-level elected officials.

  • Among the nine counties, San Mateo County has the highest overrepresentation of White elected officials compared to its population as a whole. 

Drivers of Inequity

In the past, Blacks were stripped of voting rights through violence, poll taxes, residency requirements, and literacy tests (which did not apply to illiterate Whites). Gerrymandering – the drawing of district lines to increase the odds of one group winning an election over another – was used in the past, and today, to dilute the political power of people of color. This is exacerbated in areas where people of color are geographically dispersed and is particularly true in at-large elections where one candidate represents several districts. Long hours and low pay for electoral work, and the high cost of running a campaign disproportionately disadvantages people of color and low-income candidates who have far less wealth than more affluent candidates who tend to be White. The increasing flood of money into local campaigns adds to this financial challenge. Immigrant communities can have an understandable mistrust of government based on past experiences in their home countries. With so few electeds from working-class communities of color, there is little legacy of running for office, few role models, and little support for or knowledge of how to become a politician.

Strategies

Build community power: Strategies to increase political representation and power

Strategy in Action

Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute trains next generation of leaders. Since 2010, Urban Habitat’s Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute has been training leaders from underrepresented San Francisco Bay Area communities to serve on decision-making bodies. The institute empowers residents to become leaders on the issues that have the most direct impact on their neighborhoods: transportation, housing, jobs, and more. Graduates have won 35 seats on priority boards and commissions, including planning commissions, housing authorities, and rent boards. The program is being replicated in the Twin Cities, Sacramento, and elsewhere. Learn more.

Related Indicators