BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    



          SENATE COMMITTEE ON
          ELECTIONS AND CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS
                              Senator Ben Allen, Chair
                                2015 - 2016  Regular 

          Bill No:             AB 2389        Hearing Date:    6/8/16    
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          |Author:    |Ridley-Thomas                                        |
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          |Version:   |5/9/16                                               |
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          |Urgency:   |No                     |Fiscal:    |No               |
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          |Consultant:|Darren Chesin                                        |
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              Subject:  Special districts:  district-based elections:   
                                   reapportionment

           DIGEST
           
          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.

           ANALYSIS
           
           Existing law  :

          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  







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            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. 

          7)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  :

          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)Requires the resolution to include a declaration that the  
            change in the method of electing members of the governing body  
            is in furtherance of the purposes of the CVRA. 

          3)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.  Provides that a "special district" does not  








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            include a city, county, city and county, school or community  
            college district, special assessment district, or a district  
            with appointed members on its governing board. 

          4)Makes other conforming changes.

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








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          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 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.

          Since the enactment of the CVRA in 2001, at least 160 local  
          governments have switched from at-large to district based  
          elections.  While some jurisdictions did so in response to  
          litigation or threats of litigation, other jurisdictions  
          proactively changed election methods because they believed they  
          could be susceptible to a legal challenge under the CVRA, and  
          they wished to avoid the potential expense of litigation.








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          Notably, many school districts have transitioned from at-large  
          to district-based elections without receiving voter approval in  
          an effort to avoid potential liability under the CVRA. Even  
          though state law generally requires such a transition to be  
          approved by the voters in a school district, existing law also  
          permits the State Board of Education (SBE) to waive all or part  
          of any section of the Education Code, with certain identified  
          exceptions, upon request by the governing board of a school  
          district or county board of education. The SBE generally is  
          required to approve any and all requests for waivers unless it  
          makes a finding that one of the seven enumerated conditions  
          exists.  Since 2009, the SBE has approved more than 130 waivers  
          to permit school districts to change from at-large to  
          district-based elections without voter approval, as would  
          otherwise be required by the Education Code. 

          Furthermore, in response to concerns that community college  
          districts were subject to liability under the CVRA but were  
          unable to change from at-large to district-based elections  
          without receiving voter approval, AB 684 (Block), Chapter 614,  
          Statutes of 2011, established a process under which a community  
          college district could transition from at-large to  
          district-based elections without receiving voter approval if  
          such a transition was first approved by the Board of Governors  
          (BOG) of the California Community Colleges, among other  
          provisions.  Since the enactment of AB 684, the BOG has received  
          and approved requests from approximately 20 community college  
          districts to change their election method from at-large to  
          district-based elections. 
           
          COMMENTS
           
           1)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  








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            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. 

          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.

                               RELATED/PRIOR LEGISLATION
           
          SB 493 (Cannella, Chapter 735, Statutes of 2015), permitted 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.   

          AB 278 (Hernandez), which is also before this committee today,  
          and AB 2220 (Cooper), which is pending referral in the Senate,  
          both extend the option created in SB 493 to all cities  
          regardless of population size. 
             








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          SB 927 (Anderson), which is pending in the Assembly Local  
          Government Committee, 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.

           PRIOR ACTION
           
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          |Assembly Floor:                       |59 - 16                    |
          |--------------------------------------+---------------------------|
          |Assembly Local Government Committee:  |  8 - 0                    |
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          |Assembly Elections and Redistricting  |  5 - 2                    |
          |Committee:                            |                           |
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          POSITIONS
           
          Sponsor:  Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund

          Support:  Association of California Healthcare Districts 
                    California Association of Clerks and Election  
               Officials 
                    California Association of Recreation and Park  
               Districts 
                    California Special Districts Association 
                    League of Women Voters of California 

           Oppose:   None received 

                                          
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