QUESTIONS & ANSWERS - Trustee Area Elections
Q. How can I participate in influencing trustee area boundaries to ensure that my interests are represented?
A. Community input is needed to ensure that boundary lines for trustee areas make sense for people who live in the district and, whenever possible, do not divide “communities of interest.” Determining communities of interest is one of the most important steps in the transition process.
Before any draft boundary maps are drawn, the Board of Trustees will hold two public hearings to gather testimony about communities of interest that should be considered in drawing the maps. Ideas about communities of interest also will be solicited in other ways from district residents and community groups. A form will be posted on this webpage to collect ideas about communities of interest.
Later in the process, several draft trustee area maps will be presented to the Board of Trustees and the public. The public will have an opportunity to comment on the draft maps at two public hearings as well as at subsequent final meeting when the board will vote to accept or reject a final trustee area boundary map.
Q. What is a community of interest?
A. One type of community of interest includes racial, ethnic and language minorities. The California Voting Rights Act specifically mentions Latinos, Asians and African Americans, but concentrations of other population groups also would count as communities of interest. Even though race is an important consideration, it cannot be the predominant factor in drawing trustee areas. A variety of criteria must be considered.
Examples of other communities of interest could be people living near an industry where many people work, senior citizens or students, urban or rural areas, and homeowners or renters. City, school and neighborhood boundaries often create their own communities of interest.
Q. What are some of the key factors considered in establishing trustee areas?
A. According to general principles that have been used nationally and upheld by the courts, trustee areas should:
- Include populations of relatively equal size based on U.S. Census data.
- Be literally and functionally contiguous, which means they should not hop, skip and jump over some areas to include others. Functional contiguity focuses on how the population of an area functions together and how people are connected to each other.
- Maintain “communities of interest” so that people of like interests are brought together for representation.
- Follow city, county and local government boundary lines.
- Be compact. California defines compactness “as not bypassing nearby populated areas in favor of more distant populated areas.”
Q. Who draws the trustee area boundary maps?
A. Redistricting Partners, a consulting firm with expertise in demographics and voting rights, will draw several draft trustee area boundary maps for consideration and comment by the public and the Board of Trustees.
Q. Who will make the final decision about the map establishing trustee areas?
A. The final decision rests with the Board of Trustees after hearing from the public.
Q. Why is the district changing the way it elects trustees?
A. The move to trustee area elections is meant to strengthen the voting power of communities of interest whose voting power may be diluted by at-large elections. The decision to change followed a claim made by a district voter, Sebastian Aguilar, in 2019 that his voting rights under the California Voting Right Act may have been violated because of “racially polarized” voting in the district or in other jurisdictions located within the district.
The district disputes that its at-large elections are characterized by racially polarized voting. However, recognizing that the California Voting Rights Act strongly favors area elections over at-large elections and that it is intended to protect voting rights, the Board of Trustees opted to avoid the expense and uncertainty of litigation and voted to switch to trustee area elections beginning with the November 2022 general election.
Q. What is racially polarized voting?
A. Racially polarized voting is defined as differences in voting patterns which can be shown to be correlated to race, religion, national origin, or membership in any other protected class. When there is racially polarized voting, voters in a protected class prefer candidates or ballot measures that are different from those preferred by the rest of the voters.
Q. What is the timeline?
A. A timeline showing each step in the process is still being developed. The district has committed to establishing trustee area elections no later than April 29, 2022. The new system of trustee area elections would be used for the first time in the November 2022 general election.
Q. What will happen to the current trustees?
A. Not all trustee seats are up for election at the same time. Board elections are staggered and occur every two years. Once trustee area boundaries have been set, some currently elected trustees may find that they live in the same area as another trustee. Trustees who find themselves in the same area will have to choose whether or not to run for election in the trustee area once the election is set for that trustee area. When agencies go through a districting process, they also determine the order in which elections will be held in the trustee areas. Often an effort is made to align the election for an area in which a currently elected trustee lives with the year in which that trustee’s current term expires.
Q. What is the California Voting Rights Act and where can I get more information about it?
A. The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is a state law that prohibits the use of at-large elections in local government if a plaintiff can prove that racially polarized voting exists and that any protected population groups could influence the election outcome under a different voting system. Although some of the state statutes related to the California Voting Rights Act mention cities and counties, the same principles apply to other types of public districts, including school districts and special districts. More information is available using the links below.
In addition, local agencies must also follow the federal Voting Rights Acts of 1965 when going through a districting process. Section 2 of the Act requires creation of majority-minority districts – or in this case, trustee areas – as a remedy for vote dilution when an agency has racially polarized voting and sufficient concentrations of a protected class (or classes) to create a district (or districts) where the minority population can effectively use their voting power to elect a candidate of choice.
California Voting Rights Act (2001) - A state law prohibiting the use of at-large districts in any agency with racially polarized voting.
California Voting Rights Act amendment (2016) - The California Voting Rights Act requires that plaintiffs get full reimbursement for legal fees associated with any successful challenge. This amendment to the act provides that these costs can be lessened or eliminated if the district follows a strict and prompt process for establishing area elections.
Fair Maps Act (2019) – A state law that increases transparency and public accountability in the redistricting process and requires a minimum number of public hearings, a set of criteria for drawing district boundary lines, public notice requirements for draft maps, and a public website. While it only specifically applies to cities and counties in California, the Fair Maps Act codifies traditional redistricting “best practices” that should be used by all local governmental agencies in California whenever possible.