The Santa Clarita Community College District Board of Trustees adopted two resolutions Wednesday to initiate the process of a “by-area” election system as well as the criteria of how these areas will be determined.
A “by-area” election system is where a district is divided into trustee areas and one governing board member is elected by eligible voters of that particular area.
Previously, the Santa Clarita Community College District employed an “at-large” election system in which voters of the entire jurisdiction elect all members to the governing board.
The move is being made as part of a proposed settlement of a lawsuit brought against the college district by local activists Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, who allege the current at-large voting system is a barrier to Latino participation.
Under the resolution adopted by the board, the college district will be divided into five trustee districts and will be evenly split by population.
Unlike congressional districts, local electoral districts do not require perfect equality, only “substantial” equality, according to Nielson Merksamer Law Advocacy Litigation Group.
Total deviation of less than 10% would be considered presumptively constitutional but the presumption can be overcome, according to Neilson Merksamer Law Advocacy Litigation Group.
With a total district population of 267,152 people according to the 2010 U.S. census, each district will have an ideal population of 53,430 people.
One of the criteria regarding how the “by-area” election would be conducted is based on the 14th amendment, which prohibits race as the predominant criterion in drawing districts.
It does not, however, prohibit all consideration of race when drawing lines for each of the five districts.
The drawing of bizarrely shaped trustee areas can be considered as evidence of racial discrimination.
Criteria regarding how the “by-area” election would be conducted is also based on the California Voters Rights Act and the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Some of the ways the districts will be divided under the voting rights acts are based on topography, geography, communities of interest, cohesiveness, contiguity, compactness and integrity of territory, according to Neilson Merksamer Law Advocacy Litigation Group.
Additional criteria include preventing head-to-head contests between incumbents, respecting the boundaries of political subdivisions and the use of whole census geography, according to Neilson Merksamer Law Advocacy Litigation Group.
There were however some concerns regarding the implementation of the adopted resolutions.
In a speech directed to the Board of Trustees, President of the College of the Canyons Faculty Association Wendy Brill-Wynkoop said the terms of the resolution create a conflict of interest by delegating the authority to oversee the adoption of the new trustee districts to the Chancellor and the district staff who, “Spent two years, and by various accounts, nearly two million dollars fighting the voting rights lawsuit that sought the establishment of trustee districts.”
Mary Dowell, who represented the SCCCD during the two year long litigation said that the Board of Trustees and Chancellor’s oversight to the process of drawing the district lines is in no way, shape or form illegal.
The initial draft for the proposed trustee area plans will be made publicly available on Oct. 6.