why Switch to Area Elections?
On this page
- Background about why the board decided to make this change
- Link to the resolution announcing the board's intention to switch to area elections
- Link to frequently asked questions
Why change the election system?
The Foothill-De Anza Community College District has elected trustees at-large since its founding in 1957. Under this system, the top vote-getters in districtwide voting are elected to the open seats.
Switching to trustee areas involves dividing the district into five trustee areas of roughly equal population size, based on 2020 Census data, and people in each of the areas electing a trustee. This system is intended to provide more direct representation and make it easier and less expensive for people who live in each trustee area to run for a seat on the Board of Trustees.
At the most basic level, the purpose of moving to trustee area elections is to create fairer representation, equalize voting strength, and create equitable distribution of political power.
The first of five public hearings related to formation of the trustee areas are scheduled for Sept. 13 and Oct. 4. These initial hearings will focus on "communities of interest" that will provide information for the drawing of draft trustee area boundary maps. Hearings to review draft boundary maps are scheduled for Dec. 13, 2021, and Jan. 10, 2022, with the final vote scheduled by the Board of Trustees for Feb. 14, 2022.
The board’s decision to transition to trustee area elections followed a claim submitted in 2019 by an attorney on behalf of a district voter, Sebastian Aguilar. The claim stated that the district’s at-large election system may violate Mr. Aguilar’s rights under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) because of allegedly racially polarized voting in the district and in jurisdictions that make up the district.
Racially polarized voting is characterized by differences in voting patterns that correlate to race, religion, national origin, or membership in any other “protected class” that historically hasn’t had equal opportunity to participate in the political process by voting. 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.
In a resolution stating its intent to move to trustee area elections, the board disputes Mr. Aguilar’s claim that at-large trustee elections in the Foothill-De Anza Community College District are characterized by racially polarized voting and notes that trustees of diverse races and ethnicities are elected to the Board of Trustees.
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 to avoid being sued.
In recent years, dozens of legal claims similar to Mr. Aguilar’s have been lodged against school districts, special districts, and cities and counties throughout California to promote area elections. Most jurisdictions have agreed to make the change rather than engage in litigation. At the time the board made the decision to switch to trustee area elections, no other public agency was known to have successfully defended against a California Voting Rights Act challenge.
Jurisdictions that lose lawsuits brought under the California Voting Rights Act are subject to paying attorneys' fees, court costs and expert witness fees for the prevailing party.