PART 2 - Cozy! 5 mini-districts
The Forde Files No 155
In an analysis of the amended California Voting Rights Act, Marguerite Mary Leoni and Christopher E. Skinnell, writing for the League of California Cities, cite the cities of Dinuba (population 23,961, Tulare County) and Santa Paula (population 30,335, Ventura County) as examples of "small jurisdictions" that underwent federal voting rights litigation. The city of Tehachapi, now on an accelerated track to switch from an at-large to by-district City Council election process to satisfy a voting rights challenge, logically might come under a "mini-city" category.
Tehachapi's population is approximately 9,000. If one includes the population of the California Correctional Institution, which the city annexed and which is 11 miles from the city proper, the population rises to roughly 14,000 (the prison population fluctuates daily). City special counsel Youstina Aziz of the firm Richards, Watson & Gershon said at the Sept. 18 City Council meeting that the prison population will not be counted in determining the new election districts, as the inmates cannot vote.
According to the Kern County Registrar of Voters, currently 4,355 active voters live in the city of Tehachapi. A total of 5,107 residents voted in the last general election, on Nov. 8, 2016, for four City Council seats. The seeming anomaly in numbers arises from the non-static nature of the voter rolls, as the numbers change constantly. The Kern County Registrar of Voters office said that as of Sept. 26, a cumulative 2,654 Tehachapi residents have cancelled their voter registrations. They either moved or simply are not registered any more. An additional 606 are on the inactive list, a result of undeliverable mail to the voter's address.
Kern County Elections Process Supervisor Sara Webb said that in Kern County, only the city of Bakersfield has election wards, and "all the other incorporated cities in Kern County are at-large."
The city of Tehachapi has hired Dr. Justin Levitt, vice president of the National Demographic Corporation, to divide up the city into five legally acceptable "nearly equal" sections of population. If the active voters were divided equally (not a requirement under the legal criteria for establishing districts), each district would have 871 voters.
In the by-district system, candidates must live in the district he or she represents. Voters can cast ballots only for the candidate from their district and cannot vote for any of the other candidates. If there is only one candidate running from a given district, that candidate will win automatically. If no candidate steps up from a district to run, the City Council will appoint a person from the district to serve in that seat, or the position will go vacant, leaving the voters of that district with no representation and no control over who else sits on the Council.
A letter to the City Council from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman triggered the city's reluctant scramble to dump Tehachapi's at-large election system for the districts. Shenkman, representing the San Antonio-based Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, alleges the at-large system dilutes minority votes.
The next public hearing on the process, featuring draft maps of Council districts, is 6 p.m., Oct. 9 at Wells Education Center board room , 300 S. Robinson.