BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



                                                                    AB 2389


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          Date of Hearing:  March 30, 2016


                  ASSEMBLY COMMITTEE ON ELECTIONS AND REDISTRICTING


                                Shirley Weber, Chair


          AB 2389  
          (Ridley-Thomas) - As Introduced February 18, 2016


          SUBJECT:  Special districts:  district-based elections:   
          reapportionment.


          SUMMARY:  Permits a special district to change the method of  
          electing its governing board members from at-large to a  
          by-district method of election without receiving voter approval.  
           Specifically, this bill:


          1)Authorizes the governing body of a special district to adopt a  
            resolution, without being required to submit the resolution to  
            the voters for approval, that requires members of its  
            governing body to be elected using district-based elections.  


          2)Defines a "special district," for the purposes for these  
            provisions, to mean an agency of the state formed pursuant to  
            general law or special act for the local performance of  
            governmental or proprietary functions within limited  
            boundaries, except a city, county, city and county, school or  
            community college district, or special assessment district.


          EXISTING LAW:  









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          1)Provides that the principal act of a district shall govern  
            whether directors are elected by divisions or by the district  
            at-large. 


          2)Provides that the term "by districts" means the election of  
            members by voters of the district alone; provides that "from  
            districts" means the election of members who are residents of  
            the districts from which they are elected, but who are elected  
            by voters of the jurisdiction as a whole.


          3)Prohibits, pursuant to the California Voting Rights Act of  
            2001 (CVRA), an at-large method of election from being imposed  
            or applied in a political subdivision (including a special  
            district) in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected  
            class of voters to elect the candidate of its choice or its  
            ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result  
            of the dilution or the abridgement of the rights of voters who  
            are members of a protected class.

          4)Provides that a violation of the CVRA may be established if it  
            is shown that racially polarized voting occurs in elections  
            for members of the governing body of the political subdivision  
            or in elections incorporating other electoral choices by the  
            voters of the political subdivision.

          5)Requires a court, upon finding a violation of the CVRA, to  
            implement appropriate remedies, including the imposition of  
            district-based elections, which are tailored to remedy the  
            violation.

          6)Permits any voter who is a member of a protected class and who  
            resides in a political subdivision where a violation of the  
            CVRA is alleged to file an action in the superior court of the  
            county in which the political subdivision is located.

          FISCAL EFFECT:  None.  Keyed non-fiscal by the Legislative  








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          Counsel.  


          
          COMMENTS:  
          1)Purpose of the Bill:  According to the author:


               Current law provides for different forms of government  
               for special districts in California. Depending on the  
               type of district, a special district can be organized  
               so that members of the governing board are elected  
               at-large or are elected using districts.  





               In jurisdictions that have districts, the districts  
               can be organized such that the registered voters in  
               the entire district vote for governing board members  
               from each of the districts (known as "from district"  
               elections), or the jurisdiction can be organized so  
               that only the registered voters in a district vote in  
               the election to choose the board member from that area  
               (known as "by district" elections).  In either case, a  
               candidate for the governing body must reside in the  
               district in which he or she is running.





               The CVRA is designed to protect against at-large  
               election systems that dilute minority voting rights.   
               As a result of the CVRA, local governments throughout  
               the state have been transitioning from at-large to  
               district-based elections.









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               If a special district wishes to move from at-large  
               elections to a district-based method of election to  
               address concerns under the CVRA, existing law provides  
               no uniform process for accomplishing that conversion.   
                





               This voter approval requirement, however, can make it  
               difficult and costly for jurisdictions to proactively  
               transition to district-based elections in order to  
               address potential liability under the CVRA.


                


               AB 2389 allows a special district that is concerned  
               about liability under the CVRA to voluntarily convert  
               from at-large to district-based elections without the  
               expense of a ballot initiative.





               This bill mirrors a similar process that is already in  
               place for general law cities with populations of fewer  
               than 100,000 people.


          2)At-Large vs. District Elections:  Under existing law, a  
            special district can be organized so that its governing board  








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            members are elected at-large or elected using districts.   
            Jurisdictions that are organized using district-based methods  
            are usually organized as "by-district" or "from-district."  A  
            "by-district" jurisdiction allows only the registered voters  
            in a district to vote in the election to choose the governing  
            board member from that area.  A "from-district" jurisdiction  
            permits registered voters in the entire jurisdiction to vote  
            for governing board members from each of the districts.  In  
            either case, a candidate for the governing board must reside  
            in the district in which he or she is running.

          There is no uniform process for a special district to convert  
            from at-large elections to a district-based method of  
            election.  Current law provides that the principal act of a  
            special district shall govern whether the governing board  
            members are elected by districts or by the district at-large.   
            Moreover, depending on the kind of district and its size,  
            existing law may specify which method of election it is  
            required to use to elect its governing board members as well  
            as the process for conversion.  

          3)Previous Legislation and Suggested Amendment:  Last year the  
            Legislature approved and the Governor signed SB 493  
            (Cannella), Chapter 735, Statutes of 2015, which permits a  
            city with a population of fewer than 100,000 people to change  
            the method of electing council members to a by-district method  
            of election without receiving voter approval.  This bill  
            mirrors this process and permits the governing body of a  
            special district, as defined, to adopt a resolution, without  
            being required to submit the resolution to the voters for  
            approval, to elect the members of its governing body using  
            district-based elections.  



          As mentioned above, it is the author's intent to make it easier  
            for a jurisdiction to proactively transition to district-based  
            elections in order to address potential liability under the  
            CVRA.  However, in order to ensure this bill does not  








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            facilitate changes in the method of electing governing board  
            members in special districts that are unrelated to CVRA  
            concerns, the committee and the author may wish to consider an  
            amendment to require a governing board that changes the method  
            of electing members pursuant to this bill to make findings and  
            declarations when adopting the resolution that the changes are  
            being made in furtherance of the purposes of the CVRA.  This  
            amendment also mirrors provisions of SB 493.



          4)California Voting Rights Act of 2001: SB 976 (Polanco),  
            Chapter 129, Statutes of 2002, enacted the CVRA to address  
            racial block voting in at-large elections for local office in  
            California.  In areas where racial block voting occurs, an  
            at-large method of election can dilute the voting rights of  
            minority communities if the majority typically votes to  
            support candidates that differ from the candidates who are  
            preferred by minority communities.  In such situations,  
            breaking a jurisdiction up into districts can result in  
            districts in which a minority community can elect the  
            candidate of its choice or otherwise have the ability to  
            influence the outcome of an election.  Accordingly, the CVRA  
            prohibits an at-large method of election from being imposed or  
            applied in a political subdivision in a manner that impairs  
            the ability of a protected class of voters to elect the  
            candidate of its choice or to influence the outcome of an  
            election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgement of  
            the rights of voters who are members of the protected class.



            The first case brought under the CVRA was filed in 2004, and  
            the jurisdiction that was the target of that case-the City of  
            Modesto-challenged the constitutionality of the law.   
            Ultimately, the City of Modesto appealed that case all the way  
            to the United States Supreme Court, which rejected the city's  
            appeal in October 2007.  The legal uncertainty surrounding the  
            CVRA may have limited the impacts of that law in the first  








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            five years after its passage.  


            Since the case in Modesto was resolved, however, many local  
            jurisdictions have converted or are in the process of  
            converting from an at-large method of election to  
            district-based elections due to the CVRA.  



            In many cases, local government bodies must receive voter  
            approval to move from an at-large method of election to a  
            district-based method of election for selecting governing  
            board members.  This voter approval requirement can make it  
            difficult for jurisdictions to proactively transition to  
            district-based elections in order to address potential  
            liability under the CVRA.  If a jurisdiction attempts to  
            transition from at-large to district-based elections to  
            address CVRA concerns, but the voters reject the proposal, the  
            jurisdiction nonetheless remains subject to a lawsuit under  
            the CVRA.  Furthermore, to the extent that there is racially  
            polarized voting on the question of whether to transition from  
            at-large to district-based elections, the results of the vote  
            on that question could provide further evidence for a lawsuit  
            under the CVRA.  As a result, many jurisdictions have sought  
            ways to transition from at-large to district-based elections  
            without having to receive voter approval for such a change.  
          5)Arguments in Support:  The sponsors of the bill, Mexican  
            American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), write in  
            support:


               Current law provides for different forms of government  
               for special districts in California.  Depending on the  
               type of district, the code may provide for district  
               elections or at-large elections, and/or may provide  
               for conversion to district election by voter approval  
               or by Board ordinance alone.  AB 2389 (Ridley-Thomas)  
               would give the Boards of all special districts in  








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               California the authority to convert from at-large to  
               by-district elections by Board ordinance, in the same  
               way that last session's SB 493 (Cannella, Statutes of  
               2015) conferred that authority to general law cities  
               under 100,000 in populations and provide uniformity.  



               AB 2389 would thus provide to special districts the  
               flexibility to end minority vote dilution caused by  
               at-large electoral systems without enduring costly  
               litigation.  For example, in 2015 MALDEF filed a  
               voting rights lawsuit against Fallbrook's Public  
               Utility District under the CVRA.  Fallbrook recently  
               entered into a court-approved settlement agreement,  
               and has now converted to district elections.  This  
               legislation would have given the Fallbrook Board of  
               Directors the option to avoid litigation entirely,  
               with the same result?
          6)Related Legislation:  SB 927 (Anderson), permits directors of  
            any public utility district that is wholly or partially within  
            the County of San Diego to be elected at large, by  
            subdistrict, or from subdistricts, as defined.  SB 927 is  
            pending in the Senate Governance and Finance Committee.


          7)Double-Referral:  This bill has been double-referred to the  
            Assembly Committee on Local Government.


          
















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          REGISTERED SUPPORT / OPPOSITION:


          Support


          Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (sponsor)


          American Civil Liberties Union of California


          Association of California Water Agencies


          California Association of Recreation and Park Districts
          Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights




          Opposition


          None on file. 




          Analysis Prepared by:Nichole Becker / E. & R. / (916) 319-2094












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