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After exhausting all efforts to ensure equality for minority voters, Mission Viejo will move to district-based voting

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After more than three years working toward a cumulative voting system to benefit minority voters, the Mission Viejo City Council will move to a district-based election system beginning in November 2022. 

District-based voting would carve the City up into geographic districts, which would each be represented on the City Council by someone who lives there. The decision to move to this voting system comes after exhausting all efforts to ensure the best outcome for this community. It was sparked by a 2018 lawsuit claiming the City’s at-large election system dilutes the vote of the Latino community. (See this webpage for information.) While many cities immediately adopted district voting without a challenge, the Mission Viejo City Council took proactive community-oriented steps to see if a violation did exist and – if so – how to remedy it.  

Mission Viejo’s demographics were first analyzed to determine if the at-large voting system truly produced voting results that violated the California Voting Rights Act – and it did. The Council then worked to determine which voting structures used across the nation would give a “real” voice to minority voters rather than immediately moving to less beneficial district-based voting.  

Since minority residents live throughout the City, as opposed to one specific area, district voting does not remedy the issue of racial discrimination in the at-large voting system. 

In addition, the Council pursued statutory interpretations recommended and supported by the minority voters to give the best voice to the vote cast by minority voters. 

However, despite the Council’s extraordinary efforts on behalf of this community, the State will not allow the cumulative voting method in Mission Viejo or another City absent legislative action in Sacramento.  

“The California Voting Rights Act allows judicially approved alternatives to district-based voting,” said Council member Greg Raths, who serves on the Voting Rights Subcommittee with Mayor Trish Kelley, in a joint statement. “The worthy alternative includes cumulative or rank-choice voting. However, these options for change are seemingly too significant for State staff to authorize. Thus, as Sacramento will not allow rank-choice voting or cumulative voting to best serve our minority residents, we must now defer to the one-size-fits-all district voting remedy. It is unfortunate that the best interest of our minority voters cannot be served, but your City Council worked very hard to achieve a system that would give them a greater voice. We had sincerely hoped for a better outcome for Mission Viejo minority voters, but Sacramento is not allowing any option other than district voting absent expensive legislative and legal efforts.”  

The City Council meets next on August 24 and will provide a comprehensive report.  

“We have actively been pursuing what we had hoped to be in the best interests of our community,” said Mayor Trish Kelley. “We do now have a plan and will be returning in August to discuss district maps and what the process will be and how residents can get involved.” 

For updates, sign up for the City’s eNewsletter.

Comments

Submitted by Cathy Schlicht on Thu, 07/15/2021 - 3:57 pm

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The following were my public comments for the July 13, 2021 council meeting.

CS1 Public Comments

Good evening Mayor and council, my name is Cathy Schlicht from MV

This entire voter rights process has been crafted for a desired outcome.

I asked you once before and now I will ask you again: What did you know and when did you know it?

Have you reviewed the July 2020 Amended Judgment? Are you aware that Judge Schwarm crossed out the words: “After hearing the arguments from the parties’ counsel” and wrote instead, or replaced with - “Based on the stipulation of the parties”.

Bill Curley has been exaggerating the Judge’s participation in this lawsuit. All the judge did, apparently, was sign on the dotted line.

When did you become aware of Secretary of State Padilla’s two letters reprimanding then Mayor Goodell and City Attorney Curley for mischaracterizing their communications? That Feb 2020 letter addressed misleading the council; the May 2020 letter expressed “Profound Disappointment” in the continued misrepresentations.

Are you aware that Governor Newsom had vetoed ranked choice voting in October 2019?

I have a communication from Assemblyman Bill Brough’s office stating the state legislators had no interest in changing the election laws.

Did you see the Plaintiff’s press release in 2018 after the City settled its lawsuit? I have to find my copy but I believe it was celebrating district based voting.

And yet, for nearly four years, you gamed the system to retain your seats. The parties that have benefitted: Plaintiff’s attorney was paid $180,000, instead of the statutory $30,000. The City Attorney has billed the City over $250,000. And you the Council Members extended your terms in office without a vote from the public.

To bolster the purported public support for your actions, you used an unscientific survey created by Ed Sachs, which was another self-serving opportunity to craft a desired outcome.

When did you become aware that the City Attorney withdrew his support of the pending Higginson lawsuit before the Supreme Court of the United States?

Please follow this timeline:
On April 14, 2020, you authorized the city attorney to file the Higginson amicus brief. On May 1, the City received a second letter of reprimand, again signed by Padilla himself.
On May 20, the city attorney withdraws that amicus brief with a copy to the Secretary of States office with the note “Thanks Steve, we appreciate your help!”

Did you authorize the city attorney to rescind that amicus brief that you approved in April? This was certainly another Brown Act violation, a quid pro quo or worse.

Again - This entire process has been crafted for desired outcome.

What the public speakers had wanted was for the City to fight Shenkman. Instead the city attorney invited what he called a friendly lawsuit.

That is not exactly what the public had expected from this City Council. Thank you.

Submitted by Linda Dater on Thu, 07/15/2021 - 6:34 pm

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I hope the districts will be drawn up by an independent commission, as they are state-wide. Otherwise, if politicians determine the districts, the politicians will be choosing their voters, instead of voters choosing their representatives.

Submitted by James Guthrie on Fri, 07/16/2021 - 9:42 am

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This looks like a solution in search of a problem. With this change you can expect the same divisive politics that have destroyed our big cities. Maybe you can consider ignoring Sacramento and fight back - all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary. Someone is going to have to step up against divisive policies that are based on fake problems and shoved down our throat by people who don’t live here.

Submitted by Cathy Palmer on Mon, 07/19/2021 - 3:28 pm

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This announcement fails to mention that 4 of the 5 current city council members live within two miles of each other, which may help to explain their resistance to voting based on districts. We need representation of the viewpoints from all members of our community on the city council, and these viewpoints can vary and differ based on where one lives. For example, a person living in an apartment complex near a busy intersection might want the City to focus on noise and pollution mitigation, which might not be of interest to a resident living on a cul-de-sac in a quiet subdivision. I agree with the comment that we need an independent entity to draw the districts in order to ensure that they are fair and not gerrymandered to allow the current council members to continue to run.

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