District-Based Election System

Introduction


The Fremont City Council has taken action to transition to a district-based voting system to select its councilmembers, replacing its current at-large election system.
The City Council is taking this action after receipt of a letter on February 15, 2017 by attorney Kevin I. Shenkman. The letter states that Fremont’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA) and alleges that there is evidence of racially polarized voting in the City of Fremont electorate, resulting in minority vote dilution. Under the CVRA, minimal evidence of racially polarized voting can result in a court ordering a change from at-large voting to district-based voting, even if there is no evidence of an electoral injury.

Background


The City of Fremont currently uses an at-large election system in which all voters in the City have the opportunity to vote for candidates for all four councilmember seats and the mayor’s position. In a district-based election system, the City is physically divided into separate districts, and a candidate must live in the district he or she intends to represent. The Mayor's seat, however, could continue to be elected at-large. The Council will be determining this make-up within their first two public hearings scheduled for Tuesday, April 4 and Tuesday, April 18. (See complete schedule below in the table.)

Public Hearings


The number and make-up of the voting districts will be decided upon by the Fremont City Council through a minimum of five public hearings (see schedule below in the table) required by California Elections Code. All public hearings will take place at Fremont City Hall, in the Council Chambers, at 7:00 pm. as part of the regularly-scheduled City Council meeting.

These public hearings will give the Fremont community an opportunity weigh in on the composition of the districts during the first two public hearings. Then, district maps will be drafted and two additional public hearings will be held for the public to provide input on the draft maps and proposed sequence of elections. At the final public hearing, the City Council will vote to consider an ordinance establishing district-based elections.

In preparation for the first two public hearings regarding the consideration of the number of districts and boundaries, please find the following maps as resources. This information will be used to guide the conversation related to considerations the Council could take into account when identifying number and locations of districts for a district-based election system. 

Maps from the 1st Public Hearing held on April 4, 2017:
Total Population by 2010 Census
Total Population by Race/Ethnicity
Total Population by Neighborhood
Distribution of Housing Units by Neighborhood
Total Population by High School Attendance Area
Total Population by Elementary School Attendance Area
Staff Report and Presentation


Maps from the 2nd Public Hearing held on April 18, 2017:
Pieces Overview with accompanying database
Pieces and the City's Neighborhoods
Pieces and Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) High School Attendance Areas
Pieces and Fremont Unified School District (FUSD) Elementary School Attendance Areas
Pieces and the City's Business Districts
Population Estimates by Race/Ethnicity by Piece
Pieces and the City's Residential Units
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) Overlay and Transit Locations
Staff Report and Presentation

Impact on California Cities


A number of cities in California have been sued since the CVRA was adopted in 2001, and none have avoided the mandate for district-based elections. There is a low threshold for plaintiffs to establish a valid claim under the CVRA, and if the plaintiff prevails, the city is required to pay the plaintiff’s costs. Awards in these cases reportedly have reached upwards of $3.5 million. Considering the significant costs to defend against a CVRA lawsuit and the fact that no city has prevailed, a majority of cities have voluntarily transitioned to district-based election systems.

On January 1, 2017, the California Voter Rights Act Reform (AB 350) became effective which allows cities a “safe harbor” following receipt of a CVRA demand letter. This provides 45 days of protection from litigation to assess the situation, and if a resolution declaring intent to transition to district-based elections is adopted within the 45-day period, then the potential plaintiff cannot file a CVRA action for an additional 90-day period, providing the City time to assess and implement a course of action.

Tentative Timeline


Consideration and Implementation of "District-Based” Election Method


All public hearings will be located at Fremont City Hall, 3300 Capitol Ave., in the Council Chambers, at 7:00 pm as part of the regularly-scheduled Council meeting.
Date
Time Location    
Event Comment
March 21, 2017
Resolution of Intention:
City Council adopts
Resolution declaring its
intention to transition from at-large
to district-based
elections.
California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA) Action cannot be commenced for 90 days.
March 22 - April 3, 2017 Public Outreach Re: Process & Participation
No maps drawn yet
April 4, 2017 
City Hall
7:00 pm
1st Public Hearing Re: Composition of Districts
No maps drawn yet
April 18, 2017 
City Hall 7:00 pm
 
2nd Public Hearing  Re: Composition of Districts
No maps drawn yet
April 25, 2017 Post Draft Maps and
Potential Sequence of
Elections
 
May 2, 2017 
City Hall 
7:00 pm
3rd Public Hearing Re: Draft Maps
May 9, 2017 Any Amended Maps
Posted
 
May 16, 2017 
City Hall
7:00 pm
4th Public Hearing
Select Map
Council introduces ordinance
establishing district elections,
including District Boundaries
and Election Sequence
Re: Draft Maps 
If selected map is amended, ordinance cannot be introduced until 7 days after amended map is published.
June 6, 2017
City Hall
7:00 pm
5th Public Hearing
2nd reading of ordinance
establishing district elections:
approval or denial of
ordinance
 
June 19, 2017 Day 90  
July 6, 2017  Effective date of ordinance
establishing district elections
 
June 19, 2018 Council adopts resolutions
calling for election, requesting
consolidation, etc.
 
July 16 - August 10, 2018 Candidate nomination period  
November 6, 2018 First election using new
district-based election system
 

Public Comment


Community members are also invited to provide input, comments, and feedback by email. Comments received will be shared with the Fremont City Council as part of the public feedback at the hearings.