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Sunday, 12 October 2014 06:56

Voters Have Opportunity to Change How Councilmembers are Chosen

Written by  Janie Costa
Voters Have Opportunity to Change How Councilmembers are Chosen
Measure A, on the ballot for the Nov. 4 General Election, will give Turlock voters the opportunity to decide the method by which City Councilmembers are elected in the future.

Put forward by the current Turlock City Council, Measure proposes a change that would divide the City of Turlock into four districts with one Council Member representing each. Council candidates would be required to be a registered voter residing in the City district they seek to represent.

Under current procedures, the four City Councilmembers are elected “at-large,” meaning that registered voters may vote for any candidates in that election year regardless of where they reside within the City. For example, if two seats are open, voters are able to vote for up to two candidates; the top two citywide vote-getters win the two open seats.

The non-partisan voter information pamphlet provided by Stanislaus County states that should the current method of the at-large election of councilmembers continue, the City would be potentially vulnerable to a legal challenge under the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

The Act states that an “at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters who are members of a protected class.”

At-large elections have the potential to isolate certain voters, whereas district elections may have the potential to provide more accurate representation to certain demographic needs that can be manifested through geographic differences, according to the Act.

The City of Modesto spent $1.7 million to fight a California Voting Rights Act case, which it ultimately lost, and was then forced to pay another $3 million in plaintiff’s attorney fees. Even lawsuits which are settled in a single day have ended in six figure settlements.

In May, the Turlock City Council selected a map that would divide the city into four evenly sized voting districts.

Changes in the election process would take effect in 2016 for the two council seats up for election at the time. In 2018, the remaining two seats would be elected in the same manner.

A “Yes” vote on Measure A would support a change from at-large elections of Councilmembers to district elections. A “No” vote would reinforce the current policy of City Councilmembers being elected at-large.

Should Measure A be adopted, Mayoral candidates would continue to be elected at-large; all registered voters in the City would have the opportunity to vote for any Mayoral candidate.

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