Why District Elections?
The City of Glendora received a letter form the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes dated June 2, 2017 claiming the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act - CVRA (Election Code 14025-14032) because Council members are elected at-large rather than by districts. Dozens of local government agencies in California have faced similar challenges in recent years, including Chino Hills, Whittier and West Covina to name a few.
The Glendora City Council voted July 13th to voluntarily move to district elections, taking advantage of a legal protection that enables cities to have a say in district boundaries and avoid costly litigation. That protection requires various actions be done and within a very short period of time. A City Council must pass a resolution within 45-days of receiving a demand letter alleging a violation of the CRVA. The resolution must indicate the city’s intent to move to district elections and the plan to make the change. That decision occurred on July 13, 2017 at a special meeting of the City Council of Glendora. See meeting video and staff report.
Questions & Answers
What is the basis of a lawsuit?
The law firm contends the City of Glendora’s at-large voting system “dilutes the ability of Latinos, (‘a protected class’), to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Glendora City Council elections”. The letter cites one instance where a Latina candidate ran unsuccessfully for City Council and the lack of Latino candidates willing to run in Glendora’s at-large election system is also indicative of the vote dilution of Glendora’s at large election system. The letter states that Latinos represent about 30.7% of Glendora’s population.
What have other cities done?
Almost without exception other cities have either voluntarily, or been forced to adopt changes to their method of electing City Council members. Many have settled claims out of court by essentially agreeing to shift to district elections. Others have defended challenges through the courts. Those agencies that attempted to defend their existing “at-large” system of elections in court have incurred significant legal costs because the CVRA gives plaintiffs the right to recover attorney fees. A few examples:
|Palmdale: $4.5 million
||Modesto: $3 million
|Whittier: $1 million
||Santa Barbara: $600,000
|Tulare Hospital District: $500,000
||Anaheim: $ 1.1 million
|Madera Unified: plaintiff’s asked for $1.8 million, but received about $170,000
|Hanford Joint Union Schools: $118,000
||Merced City: $42,000|
Why haven’t cities prevailed in challenging the allegations?
The threshold to establish liability under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is considered low. The Federal Voting Rights Act requires four conditions to be met to prove a city is not in compliance. The CVRA only has two condition requirements.
How are districts drawn?
Under the CVRA, districts must:
Include communities of interest
Have visible (natural and man-made) boundaries
Include respect for past voter selections
Plan for future growth
The process to develop possible maps meeting these elements requires citizenry participation. Between July 14th and October 10th, the City will need to conduct at least four public hearings to take public testimony and suggestions.
What are communities of interest?
A community of interest is a neighborhood or community that would benefit from being in the same district because of shared interests, views or characteristics. Possible community feature/boundary definitions include:
School Attendance areas
Natural neighborhood dividing lines such as highway or major roads and/or hills
Areas around parks and other neighborhood landmarks
Common issues, neighborhood activities or legislative/election concerns
Shared demographic characteristics, such as:
Similar levels of income, education or linguistic isolation
Ancestry (not race or ethnicity)
Languages spoken at home
Percentage of immigrants
Single-family and multi-family housing units
What is a protected class?
A protected class refers to voters who are members of a race, color or language minority group.
Who creates the district boundaries?
Professional demographers are hired by the cities to create proposed district boundaries. Residents will be able to suggest boundaries on a map or provide suggested criteria for creating boundaries, beyond what is legally required.
How is the change approved?
Since the City Council decided to make this change under the safe harbor protection of AB 350, the City Council is tasked with making that decision on the maps instead of a judge should we go to litigation and lose.
What’s the difference between “at-large” elections and “district” elections?
Glendora has always had an at-large election system, where voters of the entire city elect all members of the City Council. “By district” election systems carve the city into geographic sections. Voters in each section choose their City Council representative, who must also live in that district. Voters do not get to vote for any other candidates any other district.