Many local cities, school districts and other government jurisdictions in California have received a legal threat alleging that their at-large election systems violate the California Voting Rights Act. The letters threaten legal action if the jurisdictions do not voluntarily adopt district elections. The proponents of district elections argue that this system impairs minority groups’ ability to elect their preferred candidates, and campaigns for smaller areas are less expensive and encourage greater participation.
To establish these elections officials must draw electoral maps dividing the city into districts of approximately equal populations. Council members must live in the district and would be elected by the voters in that district.
Two cities in our League’s area, South San Francisco and Half Moon Bay, are shifting to by-district elections and are soliciting citizen input on how to implement this decision.
South San Francisco officially passed the ordinance adopting district-based election on July 11, 2018. Districts 2 and 4 will have elections in November 2020, and Districts 1, 3, and 5 will have elections in November 2022. For information about the process and maps.
Half Moon Bay City Council adopted the resolution of intent to switch to district elections and held hearings to decide on the issues involved.
Other Bay Area cities are in the process of transitioning or have switched to district elections including Menlo Park, Concord, Fremont, Martinez, Antioch and San Rafael. Other jurisdictions that have adopted or are considering district elections are the San Mateo Community College District and the San Mateo County Harbor District and some school districts in other counties in California. The voters adopted elections by district for the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors in November 2012.
Watch for developments in your city or school district and attend public hearings. The League does not have a position on any of these changes and members cannot speak using the League’s name. However, members are always encouraged to be informed, involved, and to speak as individuals about issues in their local communities.