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Assembly bill seeks to require district elections

Posted: April 21, 2014 5:24 p.m.
Updated: April 21, 2014 5:24 p.m.

A bill that would require some cities, including Santa Clarita, to change their election systems to ones that are district-based has been introduced in the state Assembly and is scheduled for a committee hearing this week, officials said Monday.

Assembly Bill 2715, which was introduced by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, would require cities with a population of 100,000 or more to adopt “by district” election systems, in which residents in each district would elect a representative to serve that district.

Under the city’s current at-large election system, all voters in Santa Clarita are eligible to cast votes for each seat that’s up for grabs in a particular election.

“In certain communities, the voice of the electorate has been watered down, limiting the power of significant populations,” Hernandez, the bill sponsor, said in a statement.

“Through the passage of this bill, residents in these communities are guaranteed their representative rights under the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“A representative government, which reflects the electorate and promotes the will of the people, is the intended goal of this legislation,” he said.

The bill is set for a hearing Tuesday in front of the Assembly Elections and Redistricting Committee, according to city Intergovernmental Relations Officer Michael Murphy.

The Santa Clarita City Council is expected to take a stand on the matter that same day. The city’s position is strictly advisory, since the decision is in the hands of the state Legislature.

One of the concerns with the bill, Murphy said, is its impact on local control.

“Under existing law, general-law cities in California can decide if they want to have at-large voting, like we do here in Santa Clarita, or they can have elections by district, which you see in (some) other cities,” Murphy said Monday.

“And it gives that city council and the community the opportunity to figure out what election system works best for them.

“This proposed bill would take away the various alternatives and it would tell cities, ‘Here’s what you have to do,’” he said.

Murphy also said there are questions about the cost of the bill and how it would be implemented.
“There’s a whole litany of questions that go unanswered here,” he said.

Assemblyman Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, also said he has concerns about the bill’s impact on local control.

“If you want to have election reform, what you probably want to be doing is tightening the language under the California Voting Rights Act so cities know what they have to do so they don’t get sued,” Wilk said Monday.

The election system in Santa Clarita was the subject of a lawsuit alleging violations of the California Voting Rights Act. Plaintiffs claimed that electing council members at large prevented Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

A settlement agreement on that lawsuit was announced in March. As a result, the city agreed to change Santa Clarita City Council election dates from April to November of even-numbered years and to pursue a cumulative voting method, which would allow voters to vote multiple times for a single candidate, with the number limited by the number of seats up for election that particular year.

If enacted, the provisions of AB 2715 would become operative on July 1, 2015.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney



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