California: “Could Two of OC’s Smaller Cities Buck California’s Trend Toward District Elections?”

Voice of OC:

Two small Orange County cities could be the first in California to successfully fight back against a statewide trend of cities switching to district elections.

City council members in Brea and Cypress said they will not be switching to district elections after receiving a legal threat to make the change.

They could also be the latest in a string of Golden State cities to face costly legal battles and ultimately be forced by a judge to adopt district voting.

In by-district elections, residents can only vote for a candidate who lives in their district – only having a say on who gets to sit on one of the seats at the dais.

In at-large elections, voters across the city can vote for as many candidates as there are council seats up for grabs. For example, if three seats are up for election, voters can vote for three candidates – the top three vote-getters are then elected to those seats.

The switch is part of a larger trend – often pushed by voting rights organizations – to fix what they say is racially polarized voting, which means at-large voting disenfranchises minority voters and candidates.

In cases where California courts have ruled on election lawsuits, judges routinely ruled at-large voting systems violate the state’s voting rights act….

In a phone interview Thursday, Hupp said one of the reasons they decided against switching to district elections is because they’re waiting on the California Supreme Court to make a decision on a similar battle in Santa Monica.

But Shenkman said cities who choose to fight a switch to district elections are making a “dumb mistake.”

“Some of these cities may be looking at that case and then hoping, wishing against all indications, that somehow that case is going to allow them to continue diluting the votes of their minority residents, so that they can stay in power,” Shenkman said.

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