What is the basis for the threatened lawsuit against the city?
The law firm contends the City of Encinitas’ at-large voting system “dilutes the ability of Latinos, (‘a protected class’), to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Encinitas’ council elections.” The letter cites the historic absence of Latino City Council members or candidates as evidence of vote dilution. According to the letter, Latinos represent about 13.7 percent of Encinitas' population.
What have other cities done?
Almost without exception other cities have either voluntarily, or been forced to adopt changes to their method of electing City Council members. Many have settled claims out of court by essentially agreeing to voluntarily shift to district elections. Others have defended challenges through the courts. Those agencies that attempted to defend their existing “at large” system of elections in court have incurred significant legal costs because the California Voting Rights Act gives plaintiffs the right to recover attorney fees. A few examples include:
- Palmdale: $4.5 million
- Modesto: $3 million
- Anaheim: $1.1 million
- Whittier: $1 million
- Santa Barbara: $600,000
- Tulare Hospital: plaintiff attorneys paid $500,000
- Madera Unified: plaintiff attorneys asked for $1.8 million, but received about $170,000
- Hanford Joint Union Schools: $118,000
- Merced City: $42,000
Why haven’t cities prevailed in challenging the allegations?
The threshold to establish liability under the California Voting Rights Act is considered low. The Federal Voting Rights Act requires four conditions to be met to prove a city is not in compliance. The California Voting Rights Act only has two.
How are districts drawn?
Under the California Voting Rights Act, districts must:
- Include communities of interest
- Be compact
- Be contiguous
- Have visible (natural and man‐made) boundaries
- Include respect for past voter selections
- Plan for future growth
What are communities of interest?
A community of interest is a neighborhood or community that would benefit from being in the same district because of shared interests, views or characteristics. Possible community feature/boundary definitions include:
- School attendance areas
- City borders
- Natural neighborhood dividing lines such as highway or major roads and/or hills
- Areas around parks and other neighborhood landmarks
- Common issues, neighborhood activities or legislative/election concerns.
- Shared demographic characteristics, such as:
Similar levels of income, education or linguistic isolation
Ancestry (not race or ethnicity)
Languages spoken at home
Percentage of immigrants
Single‐family and multi‐family housing units
What is a protected class?
A protected class refers to voters who are members of a race, color or language minority group.
Who creates the district boundaries?
Professional demographers are hired by cities to create proposed district boundaries. Residents can suggest boundaries on a map or provide suggested criteria for creating boundaries, beyond what is legally required.
How is the change approved?
Since the city decided to make this change voluntarily, the City Council gets to decide on the final maps instead of a judge.
What’s the difference between “at large” elections and “district” elections?
Encinitas has an at-large election system, where voters of the entire city elect all members of the City Council. “By district” election systems carve the city into geographic sections. Voters in each section choose their City Council representative, who must also live in that district.