At the July 18 meeting, the Poway City Council adopted a resolution to initiate the transition to by-district elections for offices of council members. The proposed change is in response to a demand letter from an attorney asserting that the at-large election system in Poway violates the California Voting Rights Act.
What is the California Voting Rights Act?
The California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA) establishes criteria in state law through which the validity of at-large election systems can be challenged in court. At-large election systems are the most common method of electing council members. With at-large election systems, voters of the entire jurisdiction elect the members. With a by-district election system, only the voters in a given district vote to choose the council member to represent that specific district. Candidates must live in the district in which they are running for office.
The CVRA was enacted with the specific intent of eliminating several key burden of proof requirements that exist under the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965. The constitutionality of this act has been challenged and upheld - and since then attorneys have begun filing legal action against cities across the state compelling conversion to by-district systems.
Can the City of Poway choose to not make this change?
Many cities throughout the county and the state have received demand letters and are currently in the process to convert to a by-district election system. It has been virtually impossible for government agencies to defend against CVRA lawsuits. Since 2006, public agencies have paid nearly $15 million to CVRA plaintiff attorneys.
Why a resolution?
The resolution is the first step in a process to take advantage of a “Safe Harbor” provision allowed under state law. The Safe Harbor provision allows agencies who have received demand letters a 90-day process to move from an at-large system to a by-district system without the threat of a lawsuit within that period. During this process, the city council retains control over the legislative process of creating districts.
What happens now?
The City of Poway will have a series of public hearings for the community to provide input on creating district boundaries and the proposed maps. The process culminates with the council voting on an ordinance to establish by-district elections.
What is the meeting schedule?
Per state law, district maps will not be drawn until two public hearings have been conducted.
- Aug 1 @ 7 p.m. – Public hearing (as a part of a regularly scheduled city council meeting) will provide an overview of the process and city demographics.
- Aug 8 @ 7 p.m. – Public hearing (no maps). A second opportunity to gather input from the public that will be used in establishing district boundaries.
- Aug 18 @ 6 p.m. – Public hearing (with maps). Will include discussion and public comment on draft maps and the proposed sequence of elections.
- Aug 31 @ 7 p.m. – Public hearing (with maps). Second opportunity to discuss and provide public comment on draft maps and the proposed sequence of elections.
Click on the link below for more information, including an explanation of the mapping process and how the public can get involved by submitting maps.