On October 9, during the Elk Grove City Council public hearing, three city boundary maps were selected for consideration. The proposal of new district mapping is part of the process as the city moves towards by-district (district-based) elections. The hearing was the third of four required public hearings, discussing the change from the at-large based election system.
Why the Change?
The decision to change from at-large to by-district elections comes more than a year after receiving a legal threat from the law offices of Kevin Shenkman. Shenkman argues the city’s current system increases racial tension due to the lack of diversity on the City Council.
Under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), cities are not permitted to use at-large elections if they limit the ability of minority groups from electing representation.
The cities of Davis, Citrus Heights, and Roseville have all voted to switch to by-district elections.
Elk Grove’s Election History
National Demographics Corporation (NDC) was hired to conduct an analysis to determine if racially polarized voting existed in Elk Grove. Racially polarized voting is defined as voting in which there is a difference “in the choice of candidates or other electoral choices that are preferred by voters in a protected class (a class of voters who are members of a race, color or language minority group) and in the choice of candidates and electoral choices that are preferred by voters in the rest of the electorate.”
NDC representative, Shalice Tilton, shared that NDC determined that racially polarized voting does not exist in Elk Grove. Furthermore, the City of Elk Grove was in no violation of the CVRA. Tilton said, “Since incorporation, in the history of Elk Grove, there has been a strong history of electing racially and ethnically diverse leaders.” Additionally, the analysis found that the candidates preferred by the protected-class voters (minority groups) are consistently successful in their campaigns for council.
Regardless of these findings, the city has decided to transition from an at-large system to by-district because of the significant potential for litigation. Additionally, Tilton presented three proposed maps of suggested districts for the city of Elk Grove.
Proposed New District Maps
The proposed maps still categorize the city into four districts, however, all three alternative maps have different boundary lines. Tilton explained that “odd-shaped” districts are created so that protected-class citizens in concentrated neighborhoods are not split up. Additionally, NDC must reflect the geography that the federal government uses for census-blocks. Furthermore, some census-blocks are very large due to the patterns of growth within the city.
During public comment, all of the resident speakers urged the council to maintain the current district map for the 2020 election. Additionally, all resident speakers agreed that waiting until completion of the 2020 census for the mandatory redistricting would ensure fair voting for all citizens of Elk Grove.
Kathy Engle shared her concerns about the Stonelake neighborhood being “intentionally left out.” Engle also reminded the council of previous issues with NDC being selected to conduct surveys for the city of Davis. Davis city leaders decided to hire another firm because of reports of gerrymandering through redistricting conducted by NDC in North Carolina. Furthermore, Engle stated NDC’s “drawings” look like “gerrymandering, plain and simple.” The redistricting of Stonelake, separate from Laguna-West, supports this notion according to Engle.
Maureen Craft shared concerns of citizens getting “cut out of voting for a number of years” if the proposed change is implemented prior to the 2020 census.
Dennessa Atiles told the council she was concerned about possible gerrymandering due to redistricting, as shown on the alternative maps. She also shared, as a best practice, that the city should not be spending additional funds to redistrict, prior to the 2020 census.
Next Public Hearing: October 23
The City Council acknowledged the public’s comments and agreed that three maps will be reviewed at the next public hearing on October 23.