Voting Rights Act forces cities to switch from “At-large” to “Elections by Council District”.
Activists seeking minority representation on city councils resort to lawsuits under state’s Voting Rights Act to fight at-large systems. First came Modesto, then Compton, Anaheim, Escondido, Palmdale, these Calif. cities under pressure to change how they elect their city councils, from at-large elections, to geographic representation, by district, following a lawsuit settlement. These were ethnically diverse cities that held at-large elections and had few minority officeholders, have proved vulnerable to lawsuits under California’s eleven year old Voting Rights Act. (1)
All a plaintiff needed to do, was demonstrate that racially polarized voting exists — based on election results that reveal contrasting outcomes between predominantly minority precincts and white ones. No local government had won a state voting rights lawsuit, that cannot demonstrate a fair treatment of minorities in at-large election systems, and who are liable for plaintiffs’ legal fees, per consultant Paul Mitchell, with Sacramento-based Redistricting Partners, who has helped several local governments make the change. (1)
The Census data show that nearly 66% of Whittier’s residents are Latino. But only one Latino has been elected to the City Council since the town incorporated in 1898. Whittier College political scientist Eric A. Lindgren did a study of the 2010 Whittier election that he said showed racially polarized voting pattern existed against minority candidates. (1)
The voting rights law is overly broad and vague, and it offers very little guidance. Some cities are changing to district elections just to avoid lawsuits.” Some cities have been more reluctant. Years of racism, manifested in part by polarized voting, have undercut minorities’ opportunities to be elected said Rod Pacheco, a former Republican assemblyman & Riverside County district attorney. The voting rights act “was meant to give everybody an equal opportunity to participate” in elections, Pacheco said. (1)
As more California cities become more Hispanic, its city councils are being force to address change from electing members at-large to geographic districts that give Latinos a fairer chance — and some of those cities are now doing it to avoid voting rights act lawsuits. (2)
In 1980 and 1990 Glendale’s population was 139,060 and 180,038 respectively. Per the 2010 Census, the City of Glendale’s population had the highest percentage of whites. (3) Their demographics, by race, with a population of 193,113 were as follows: (4)
· White alone – 125,048 (64.8%)
· Hispanic – 34,558 (17.9%)
· Asian alone – 28,728 (14.9%)
· Two or more races – 2,796 (1.4%)
· Black alone – 1,417 (0.7%)
· American Indian alone – 514 (0.3%)
· Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander alone – 52 (0.03%)
Based on the foregoing, Hispanics and Asians represents 63,286 or 32.8% of Glendale’s population with no representation on the City Council. Hispanics and Asians are heavily represented in 13 out of 39 (33.33%) Glendale neighborhoods as follows:
South Brand comprises a large majority of renter occupied apartments, in which Hispanics and Asians represents over 50% of the population. (5) In Grand Central, Hispanics and Asians represents about 70% of the population. (6) In Woodbury, Hispanics and Asians represents about 45% of the population. (7) In Tropico, Hispanics and Asians represents about 75% of the population. (8) In Somerset, Hispanics and Asians represents about 43% of the population. (9)
In Riverside-Rancho, Hispanics and Asians represents about 60% of the population. (10) In Rancho-San-Rafael, Asians alone represents over 50% of the population. (11) In Pacific Edison, Hispanics and Asians represents about 60% of the population. (12) In Moorpark, Hispanics and Asians represents about 50% of the population. (13) In Milford Industrial, Hispanics and Asians represents about 48% of the population. (14) In Adams Hills Square, Hispanics and Asians represents about 50% of the population. (15) In Grand Central, Hispanics and Asians represents about 60% of the population. (16) In Mariposa Glendale,, Hispanics and Asians represents about 44% of the population. (17)
Demographics in Glendale Unified – Hispanics, Asians, & Filipino represent 41.9% in Glendale Unified. 23.7% represent English Learners in Glendale Unified. (18) In the last five years, through 2010, the City of Glendale had created 300 affordable and quality rental housing units, increasing the City’s total count of affordable Housing units to 600. (19) A great number of these affordable rental units have been developed for extremely low and very low income households made up of 3 to 7 members. Through community involvement, private investment and effective use of public funds, the City of Glendale continues to embrace the development of affordable living for local families in need. (20)
Redistricting: Political and legislative boundaries are currently being redrawn in California using information acquired from the 2010 census, an act that occurs every ten years in each state in the country. Recognizing the ill-effects of allowing legislators to draw their own districts as they have been allowed to in the past, California Forward advocated for the creation of an independent commission to create these boundaries and aided in the passage of a ballot measure that created the Citizen’s Redistricting Commission (CRC). (21)
Larger cities are more likely to use By District elections: Nine of California’s fifteen largest cities use District elections. (22) The City of Glendale with a population of 193,313 presently has “At-Large Elections” who elects five council seats. The City Council elects annually one of its councilman to be mayor, who participates in Council votes and has no independent veto powers.
· Pasadena– 134,000 people, 7 Council members elected By District, Mayor elected in separate At Large election.
· Colton– 47,700 people, 6 Council members elected By District, Mayor elected in separate At Large election (23)
Common Impacts: By District Elections
- The same districts are drawn
- Separate council election for each district
- Candidates must live in the district they wish to represent
- Neighborhoods have a spokesperson on the City Council -more of a voice on Neighborhood issues
- Candidates ‘campaign costs tend to be lower than At Large elections
- Citywide planning and concerns sometimes are supplanted in favor of neighborhood issues
Positives for district elections
Philosophy- candidates and board members are “closer” to the voters
Accountability – each voter has one specific board member to blame for problems or to petition for help
Geographical fairness – each geographic area is represented
Racial fairness – in some jurisdictions it may be possible to draw a majority of one minority group that may elect a candidate of their choice.
Diversity – as a general matter, women and minority candidates fare better is district elections
1. Running for office may be less expensive since a smaller area is to be covered
2. Candidates may rely more on neighborhood campaigning and support of community groups and less on media advertising
3. Focus of campaigns may be on local community concerns rather than citywide policy issues.
Negatives for District Elections
Philosophy – candidates and board members, being “closer” to set a set of voters, may not always take the best interests of the city as a whole into account; the interests of voters in one district may be more narrow and different than the interests of the whole city of county.
1. Each voter has only one specific board member who answers directly to that person
2. Any group- political or racial – which is in a minority in a district has no other opportunity for representation
3. Voters not familiar with district boundaries, do not know who represents them
4. Voters may become confused at election time
1. City must redraw its district boundaries after each census to comply with “one person, one vote” requirements
2. Districts must redraw with each city annexation
Geographical fairness- between censuses high-growth areas may become under-represented
Administration – district representatives may be more likely than at-large members to intervene in day-to-day administrative operations on behalf of constituents
Common Impacts: At Large
- No districts used
- Candidates may live anywhere in the City
- Citywide focus in campaigns and Council deliberations
- One or more neighborhoods may be overrepresented on the Council
- Campaigns tend to be more expensive than By District elections
- Council focus tends to be on citywide issues
Positives for at-Large Elections
1. Candidates and board members may be more likely to have the interests of the entire city at heart.
2. Candidates may take moderate stances in the political center to appeal to the broadest possible range of voters; elected candidates may then come to the board already have incorporated consensus views.
3. At-large board members are usually more homogenous than district representatives and there may bay therefore be less conflict among them.
Accountability – each voter gets to vote for several board members; each voter is therefore more likely to have voted for at least one winning candidate and therefore to feel “represented” on the board
1. Administration of elections is easier since election officials and voters are unconcerned with district lines
2. No redistricting is every necessary
Fairness and Diversity – a group which might be a minority in a particular district may still be able to elect a candidate.
Negatives for At-large Elections
1. Less direct link between voters and board member
2. Emotional issues [i.e. funding for the arts] may take undue precedence over important local concerns
1. No voter has one specific board member who answers direct to that person
2. Board members may be more likely to view elections to citywide as a stepping stone to higher office.
Geographical fairness – Several board members may live close together, and some areas of the city may be “unrepresented”.
1. Campaigns may be more expensive to run, since each candidate must appeal to all the voters.
2. Campaigns may rely more on media advertising and less on neighborhood and grassroots work
3. Lower income and minority candidates may find it more difficult to run and to be elected. Ref:
· document by Michael Crowell, attorney with the firm of Tharrington Smith in Raleigh
At present, Glendale has not established any voting districts. It’s my understanding that it is up to the petitioners to establish voting districts. It’s apparent that Glendale will eventually be forced to change to elections by Council District. With the City’s sustainability plan, bringing in more multi-use buildings in downtown, pushing affordability, this will certainly attract more minorities. Glendale should be more like its tri-city Pasadena. They have 7 council members for a population of 134,000, a ratio of 19,142 to one. They also have a Mayor elected At-Large who most likely does not participates in city council meetings and has the power to veto any legislation. Based on Glendale’s current population, we should have a minimum of nine voting council districts for its 39 neighborhoods. We should also have a mayor elected At-Large. By switching to Council District elections, this will preclude a voting rights act lawsuits that will save the city residents and businesses millions of dollars. By having nine city council seats, this will significantly lessen the power and influence of the public sector unions, and of each city councilman. It will require more compromise and finding common ground. For more in depth information, please refer to Vanguard’s April 22, 2012 issue on VOTER-AT-LARGE VS. DISTRICT ELECTIONS