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Legislation to Make Transition to District-Based Elections More Efficient Now in the Assembly

May 27, 2015
League-supported SB 493 (Canella) would enable city councils to use the ordinance process to convert to a by-district election system, avoiding costly litigation or the expense of an election to garner voter approval on the ballot.
 
The bill passed out of the Senate, and is now awaiting committee assignment in the Assembly.

Since the passage of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), numerous jurisdictions with at-large election systems have been subject to lawsuits alleging the existence of racially polarized voting. These lawsuits have created pressure on at-large entities to switch to by-district election systems. A by-district system provides greater protection against further lawsuits under the CVRA.
    
General Law cities can switch their election systems, but only with voter approval. In the event voters reject the change, cities can still face litigation under the CVRA — leaving costly litigation the sole option for city leaders.

SB 493 builds upon AB 684 (Block, 2011), which gave community college districts similar authority to convert their election systems. Numerous districts have successfully used the process to address concerns about racially-polarized voting. Districts have been able to do this quickly, easily and without spending taxpayer dollars on litigation or an election.

California cities strive to engage residents in policymaking. SB 493 strikes an important balance that protects local control. It allows local leaders to examine their city’s demographics, then gives them the tools to proactively remedy any issues they find — all the while being considerate of precious taxpayer resources.

Next Steps

Cities can send in letters to the author’s office expressing support for the bill and are encouraged to send letters to committee members (upon committee assignment). A sample letter is available on the League’s website.

 


 
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