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Mission Viejo City Council votes to maintain at-large voting system

After five public hearings, extensive public outreach, input and legal review, the Mission Viejo City Council on Tuesday, February 13 voted to maintain its current at-large voting system and identify appropriate remedies for solving the racially polarized voting issue in the City.

The vote was prompted by a demand letter the City of Mission Viejo received last year from a Malibu-based law firm claiming Mission Viejo’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by causing vote dilution for the City's Latino residents. The firm threatened litigation if the City declined to voluntarily convert to district-based elections for the City Council.  A professional review of all voting patterns dating back to 2010 in fact shows evidence of racially polarized voting in Mission Viejo. However, establishing district-based voting does not solve the racially polarized voting problem. Instead, the City must identify “appropriate remedies” as the law requires and district voting is not a beneficial solution.

The Council made its findings after reviewing 15 maps and 218 public comments on districting. In addition, City Council members conducted ongoing, multi-faceted, personal, professional and legislative outreach to members of the community. Council members discussed the issue at community and social events, houses of worship, service clubs, in personal settings and through radio interviews. The City launched an extensive public outreach campaign and created a dedicated webpage on the districting efforts and discussion. City staff members also encouraged public participation throughout the process.

Residents who responded overwhelmingly prefer to retain an at-large voting format in the City and recommend seeking other appropriate solutions to remedy the issue.

When districting is expressly identified, and is the most common reaction by a City, many cities seek that option first. However, non-specifically described remedies are also authorized under the law. These are antidotes which are tailored to respond to the specific needs present where district voting will not solve the racially polarized voting – as is the case in Mission Viejo. Therefore, as the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 requires “appropriate remedies,” the City will look at identifying actual and beneficial solutions that resolve the polarization factors present in our community.