The City of Glendale has been notified that our partners in the Glendale Unified School District and Glendale Community College are considering changing from their at-large election process. The City of Glendale also elects City Council members by an at-large election process and is interested in the public’s input on potential changes in the election process to include district based elections. This change would result in city council members elected by geographically defined districts and only by the voters in those districts.
State and Local Legal Framework
The authority to change the election process and elect members by districts must be exercised through an adoption or amendment of the city charter. The Glendale Charter currently provides that members of the council receiving the highest number of votes shall hold office for terms of four years. Accordingly, the City has both the power and obligation to propose charter amendments if it wishes to provide for district or other forms of elections.
A charter amendment may be proposed by the Council or through an initiative. Charter amendments to establish district or other forms of elections ordinarily must be submitted by voters at a statewide general election. However, a charter proposal that proposes to amend a charter in a manner that does not “alter any procedural or substantive protection, right, benefit, or employment status of any local government employee or retiree or of any local government employee organization” may be submitted to the voters at either a statewide general or primary election, or at a general municipal election. A charter amendment to provide for district or other forms of elections appears to be appropriately submitted at any of these types of elections.
The manner in which the council districts will be drawn should also be set forth in the charter amendment. Districts may be drawn by the Council itself, an advisory body established by ordinance, or another form of decision-making body such as districting commission established by ordinance or charter. At least one public hearing must be held by the Council before districts are drawn. Districts must be “as nearly equal in population as may be according to the latest federal decennial census,” follow other objective, non-discriminatory criteria, and be re-evaluated with each new decennial census, depending what the charter provides. Council districts are most often drawn by ordinance of the city council with the assistance of demographic experts.
Types of Voting Systems
Staff would recommend one of several types of voting systems:
- At Large
- From District
- By District
- By District, including Instant Runoff/Ranked Choice
Some basic characteristics of each system are discussed below.
Glendale currently uses at-large voting. Under this system, council candidates may reside anywhere in the City. Each voter, regardless of the location of their residence, may vote for any candidate. This system may provide assurance that each councilmember will consider all voters to be his or her constituents. At large elections remain predominant system in small to medium-sized California cities. The California Voting Rights Act specifically targets for invalidation at-large electoral systems in which racially polarized voting and vote dilution are demonstrated.
Under this system, council candidates must reside in a specific geographical district of the City. Each voter, regardless of the location of their residence, may vote for any candidate. This hybrid system provides some assurance of geographical representation while possibly providing assurance that each council member will consider all voters to be his or her constituents. From district elections are used in Santa Ana and Newport Beach. A from district system is also vulnerable to attack under the California Voting Rights Act.
The by district voting system requires each council candidate to reside in a specified geographical district of the City. Unlike at large and from district voting, only voters residing in the same district as the council candidate may vote for that candidate. In many by district jurisdictions, the mayor is separately elected at large. In other jurisdictions, all candidates are elected by district and the mayor is appointed by the council. The by district system may provide assurance that each councilmember will focus more attention on the geographical constituency that makes up his or her district. Where a racial, or language minority group resides in a geographically compact area, by district voting may provide a greater opportunity for the election of minority candidates depending on other circumstances.
By district elections are used in each of California’s largest cities (Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Fresno, Long Beach, Sacramento, Oakland, Bakersfield). By district elections are also used in numerous small to medium-sized cities including Berkeley, Pasadena, Redondo Beach, San Leandro, Chula Vista, Hanford, Colton, Watsonville, Hollister, Sanger, Seal Beach, Dinuba, Parlier, and Bradbury. The City of Whittier recently instituted by district elections with a separately elected mayor. A by district electoral system is not subject to challenge under the California Voting Rights Act, but may be challenged under the federal Voting Rights Act if the district boundaries are discriminatory.
Instant Runoff/Ranked Choice
Instant runoff/ranked choice voting can be combined with by district elections. It is used in lieu of a primary system in order to assure that each elected official has 50% or more support from the constituents of his or her district. This system is used in combination with by district elections in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkley and San Leandro. A ranked choice ballot is shown below.
Cumulative voting systems allow each voter several votes, typically the same number as there are open seats. Voters may vote for the candidates singly or cumulatively (thus assigning more than one vote for a given candidate). A cumulative voting ballot is shown below.
This system is not used in any California City, but has been included as a potential remedy in the settlement of the City of Santa Clarita’s recent California Voting Rights Act litigation. Unlike by district voting, this system may provide greater opportunity for the election of candidates favored by minority groups, regardless whether the minority group voters reside in a geographically compact area. Cumulative Voting is an at-large system, and as such, may be vulnerable to Challenge under the California Voting Rights Act.
A charted city may design many creative hybrid forms of voting systems. As noted above, some cities combine by district elected councilmembers with a separately elected mayor; others elect all councilmembers by district, who then appoint the mayor. The hybrid at large/district proposal from Mayor Schneider and Councilmember White would have the mayor and two councilmembers elected at large and four councilmembers elected by district. This proposal may provide assurance that each voter would have a majority of the Council who consider them a voting constituent while providing for geographical representation as well. Hybrid electoral systems may be subject to challenge under the California Voting Rights Act.
If you would like to provide the City of Glendale input on CVRA and Council Districts, please click here or call 818-548-4844. Community meetings will be calendared in the next several months. The first meeting where Council Districts will be discussed is Thursday, October 16 at 6:00 pm at the Pacific Community Center, 501 South Pacific Avenue.
A Message from the City Clerk
Thank you for visiting Glendale's election information website. Here you can find information about upcoming elections, past elections, campaign contributions to candidates and elected officials and information on the election process in Armenian, Spanish, Korean and Tagalog.
If you or someone you know is interested in running for the City Council, Glendale Unified School District Governing Board, or Glendale Community College Board of Trustees seats for the April 7, 2015 Election, please find the information on the qualifications for candidates here [PDF].
If you have any questions regarding this election or any others, please contact the City Clerk's office at (818) 548-4000 and someone on our staff will try to help you with your inquiry. Thank you for being engaged in your community and interested in its future.
City Clerk Ardy Kassakhian, CMC