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Elk Grove City Council to consider changing to “by district” elections

Elk Grove City Council to consider changing to “by district” elections

With the threat of a lawsuit looming, the Elk Grove City Council will hear a staff report proposing a change from “from district” to “by district” voting.

From district voting means the candidates must reside within a specific district, but are elected by the whole city. In a “by district” election, only those within the district can vote for a candidate within that district.

The city received notification from the law firm of Shenkman and Hughes, that is city’s current method of election violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (“CVRA”). The firm had previously contacted the city in February 2018 regarding this issue. The firm has been successful in suing other cities under similar circumstances, including the cities of Palmdale and Santa Monica.

In order to avoid future litigation, city staff is proposing the city switch to “by district”. Full Staff Report.

Opinion:
At this point the city council would be wise to switch to “by district” and avoid using taxpayer money to fight an issue it would likely lose in court. I have personally been an opponent of the change because of the potential negatives of elected officials not doing what was best for the city as a whole and the potential for infighting amongst the council. Also I believe that the residents should vote on every council member that is making decisions on what happens in the city. Under the proposed change, we would only have a say in the mayor and our city council member. There potential issues there that we will have to watch in the future, but I agree with the proposed change not wasting taxpayer money that can be used for better things.

One of the issues raised in the letter to the city by the Shenkman and Hughes firm was in the 2018 election there were two Hispanic candidates that ran and both lost. The two candidates were Andres Ramos and Orlando Fuentes.

The letter also states that as of the “2010 census, the city of Elk Grove had a population of 153,015. According to recent data, Latinos comprise approximately 18% of the City’s population. However there are currently no Latinos serving on the Elk Grove City Council, nor have there been for several years. ”

A check of the 2018 Elk Grove City Council election results show that even under a “by district” vote, using the current district alignment, that neither Ramos or Fuentes would have likely won.

Ramos ran against incumbent Pat Hume and received 41% of the vote. Ramos won 4 of the 57 precincts, none of which were in the district he was running to represent. See Elk Grove City Council District map below in purple, District 2.

Elk Grove City Council District Map

Orlando Fuentes ran against Stephanie Nguyen, who had been appointed to fill a vacancy after the 2016 election. Fuentes failed to win a single precinct in the city. See map above, District 4 (dark green)

The City of Elk Grove is a very diverse city, one of the most diverse in the country. The city council itself has been fairly diverse. In the very first election in 2000, the top 5 vote getters were elected to the first city council. The top 2 vote getters were Jim Cooper, an African American male and Sophia Scherman, a Hispanic female. Both served long tenures. Scherman served on the council until the city went to an elected mayor position, that forced a redistricting in 2012. Scherman ran for mayor and lost to Gary Davis. In 2014, Steve Ly became the first Asian to serve on the city council and Jim Cooper was elected to the California Assembly. Darren Suen was appointed to fill the final 2 years of Coopers seat and won re-election in 2016.

in 2016 Steve Ly became the first Hmong Mayor of any city in the United States. After that election, Stephanie Nguyen was appointed to fill the remaining two years of Ly’s term.

In 2018, Steve Ly won re-election and Stephanie Nguyen won her first election.

The change in how Elk Grove residents elects their city council members is not likely to change who is elected. Elk Grove residents have shown they don’t care about race, gender, or political party when electing public officials. That is something that a few local activists have missed. The Elk Grove Unified School District and Cosumnes Community Services District both have and have had diversity on their boards as well.

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