Arguing that the change would make city elections in California more fair and representative, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, is pushing to swap citywide elections for district-based affairs.
Under yet-to-be-introduced legislation, non-charter cities with more than 100,000 residents would be required to have voters select council members by district. Present law allows cities to have council elections citywide or by district.
The rationale is that citywide election results don't always reflect demographics, particularly in municipalities where substantial minority populations have failed to translate into equally diverse city councils.
"This bill would adhere to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by providing underrepresented groups throughout California an opportunity to have their voice represented," Hernandez said in a press release. "In certain communities, the voice of the electorate has been watered down limiting the power of significant populations."
If enacted the change would affect 27 cities across California, including Hernandez's home base of West Covina, spokesman Primo Castro said. A separate list compiled by Paul Mitchell, president of the firm Redistricting Partners, used data from the U.S. Census to determine that California contains 23 cities that have more than 100,000 residents and presently hold at-large elections.
The type of electoral mismatch Hernandez is targeting has generated legal challenges in multiple cities. Anaheim has reportedly entered into settlement talks for a lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, arguing that the city's all-white council belies the fact that Anaheim is majority Latino.
Similarly, Los Angeles Superior Court judge Mark Mooney ruled in July that Palmdale's at-large city council voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.
Mooney handed down a separate ruling in November ordering Palmdale to dissolve its current city council, saying its members were selected by "an unlawful election," and have voters elect new representatives in a district-based special June election. Assistant city attorney Noel Doran said Palmdale plans to appeal.
Since they are charter cities, Anaheim and Palmdale would not be encompassed by Hernandez's law.
Mitchell's list of cities that would be affected by the law includes Antioch, Concord, Corona, Costa Mesa, Daly City, El Monte, Fairfield, Fontana, Fremont, Fullerton, Garden Grove, Murrieta, Norwalk, Ontario, Orange, Oxnard, Rancho Cucamonga, Richmond, Santa Clarita, Simi Valley, Temecula, Thousand Oaks and West Covina.
A separate review of population data by The Bee suggested that Rialto, a non-charter city of more than 100,000 residents with an at-large election system, may also belong on the list.
PHOTO: A woman leaves her polling place after voting at the Timber Creek Lodge at Del Webb's Sun City in Roseville. Calif. on Tuesday, November 6, 2012. The Sacramento Bee/Lezlie Sterling.