The City of Buena Park has hired the professional services of National Demographics Corporation to switch from its existing at-large election system to a single-member district election system. The target implementation date for the district-based electoral system is November 2016.
Under the new system, the city council would retain its five-member council; however, four of the council members would be required to live within particular geographically-defined districts and voted upon by voters within that district. One member would be elected as an at-large mayor, voted upon by all voters within the city. The reason for changing to a district-based electoral system is to meet requirements of the California Voting Rights Act.
The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), signed into law in 2002, prohibits the use of any election system “that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” The law also makes it easier for minority groups to prove that their votes are diluted in at-large elections and to file legal challenges. The potential consequences of litigation are significant, and governments can be sued and forced to pay legal and court fees if plaintiffs prevail.
The City made its decision to consider changing to a district-based electoral system after an analysis identified that the City has protected class group residents who are sufficiently numerous and geographically concentrated to form either a majority or plurality in a single-member district.
There are advantages to the City voluntarily changing to district elections. Changing voluntarily avoids a potential lawsuit and allows the city council and the voters, rather than adverse plaintiffs or a court, to have greater influence on controlling the districting process and the considerations that will guide the districting. The districting process not only takes into consideration the geographic concentrations of minority group residents, but also communities of interest, such as school attendance zones, neighborhoods, surrounding parks, master-planned communities, neighborhoods divided by freeways, historic neighborhoods, hills/ flats, downtown or commercial zones. The City believes that being proactive in establishing single-member voting districts leads to better representation for the entire community.
NDC will partner with the City to facilitate the transition process that will include identifying “communities of interest” that could be served by single-member districts; preparing and implementing a public outreach work plan for switching to single-member district elections; creating at least three districting plans for future consideration; participating in Council and/or community meetings to review the draft plans; and implementing the final adopted plan with the County Registrar of Voters.
In November 2016, the two seats currently held by Mayor Brown and Mayor Pro Tem Smith are up for election. Because there are two seats up for election, only two of the newly-formed districts would be on the November 2016 ballot, and the other three seated council members would serve out the remainder of their four-year terms, regardless of their geographic residency. In November 2018, when three seats are up for election, the remaining two districts and the at-large mayor position would be on the ballot. The at-large mayor position would be a two-year term.