Why are We Making the Transition Now?
The California Voting Rights Act requires cities to elect their council members from districts if certain conditions are met. As a result, we are changing our election process. Currently we elect our 6 council members and mayor by voters citywide. In the future we will elect our council members by voters from six distinct districts. We will continue to elect our mayor by voters citywide. To meet legal rules, we will need to approve the new district maps by April of 2022. Working backward, we will need to review draft maps by January 31, 2022. This is a significant change in how Petalumans vote for council representation.
On August 23, 2021, the City received a certified letter from Kevin Shenkman, an attorney based in Malibu, which alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) (Elections Code §§14025-14032). The letter alleged that the City’s at-large election system has impaired the ability of Latinx voters to elect their preferred candidates and demanded that the City convert to district-based elections for choosing City Council members. The letter requested that the City inform Mr. Shenkman by October 8, 2021 whether the City would discuss a voluntary change to its current at-large election system.
The City of Petaluma currently uses an at-large election system in which all voters in the City have the opportunity to vote for candidates for all seven seats on the City Council. A “district-based” election is one in which the city is divided into separate districts, each with one Councilmember who resides in the district and is chosen by the voters that reside in that district. The CVRA generally requires jurisdictions with “at-large” elections to convert to “district-based” elections if racially-polarized voting is found to exist in the jurisdiction. Racially-polarized voting exists where a protected minority group prefers an issue or candidate that differs from the preference of the majority. At the October 4, 2021, City Council Regular Meeting, the City Council adopted Resolution No. 2021-164 N.C.S. declaring its intent to initiate procedures to consider transition from at-large to district-based elections. On October 8, 2021, the City informed Mr. Shenkman of the adoption of Resolution 2021-164 N.C.S. and provided him a copy.