Community Voices

Guest Opinion: in favor of district-based voting for Citrus Heights

By Citrus Heights resident Marcel C. Weiland–
District-based voting has made its debut in Citrus Heights and the reviews are mixed.  Some of us begrudgingly recognize that the city’s hand has been forced and that district-based voting is inevitable, while others forcibly reject the idea.

Marcel Weiland

Regardless of where you stand, it seems we all agree on one thing: we resent the fact that a single lawyer can hold an entire city hostage.  Nevertheless, what I hope to present is a reasonable case for district-based voting, one that will show that this change can result in some very positive outcomes.  Malibu lawyers be damned.

Hispanic Vote Dilution
To begin with, the ostensible justification for district-based voting in Citrus Heights is that the current system of at-large voting dilutes the vote of the Hispanic population and thereby robs them of representation on the city council.  This would be of particular concern if the Hispanic population was clustered in specific neighborhoods, versus being evenly distributed throughout the city, meaning that a reasonable drawing of district lines would create at least one district that could yield a Hispanic council member.

So, which is it?  Is the Hispanic population spread across the city, or is it clustered?

Well, it turns out that the Hispanic population in Citrus Heights is clustered in specific areas.  But don’t take my word for it, check out this demographics map showing our population distribution:

Based on the data, it appears as though a reasonable drawing of district lines, one that conforms to the stipulations of the CVRA, could create at least one and possibly two districts with a Hispanic population higher than the citywide number of 16.5%.  The data indicate that district-based voting could actually bolster Hispanic representation in Citrus Heights.

One Person, One Vote
Fair representation of minority groups is important because everyone interacts with our city differently and therefore brings a unique perspective to bear on each issue.  How we interact with the city depends on countless factors, including who we are, where we’re from, the language we speak, and the means at our disposal. It would be wrong to design a system that elects a representative from every possible sub-group, just as it would be wrong to design a system that solely elects representatives from a single sub-group.

What I believe we have the opportunity to do in Citrus Heights is to design a system that strikes the right balance between over-representation and under-representation.  Bringing us in closer alignment with the one person, one vote principle and thus creating a system that will better serve all residents.

Advantages of District-Based Voting
Beyond acting as a remedy for minority vote dilution, district-based voting has a number of other advantages, including:

  • Reduced cost of running for council.  This would be accomplished by the simple fact that candidates would no longer need to campaign across the whole city, but only in their district.  With few exceptions, the cost of a successful council campaign has risen cycle over cycle since the city incorporated, excluding more and more potentially great candidates.
  • Increased civic engagement. More people would run for council because the cost would be much more manageable.
  • Increased accountability. Residents of each district would have a council member dedicated to their issues, someone to hold accountable.
  • Elevated neighborhood voice. As issues can vary neighborhood by neighborhood, district-based voting would ensure that residents’ concerns are heard.

Furthermore, the city’s interaction with the San Juan Unified School District (SJUSD) is in itself an argument in favor of district-based voting.  The SJUSD board members are elected on an at-large basis and this system has not served Citrus Heights well. In fact, both of our high schools, San Juan and Mesa Verde, consistently score well below the state average for test scores, subject matter proficiency, and college readiness

We currently have no Citrus Heights residents serving on the school board, no direct representation, and therefore we have nobody to hold accountable.  If the SJUSD board members were selected using district-based voting, we would have a champion, someone responsible for voicing our needs and concerns to the board.

Counterpoints and Solutions
Of course, there are counterpoints to district-based voting.  What if council members promote the interests of their districts at the expense of other districts?  What if council members lose sight of the bigger picture and the city suffers as a result? Every course of action comes with advantages and disadvantages.  But in this case, I think we can mitigate the potential for a negative outcome by being creative in our solution.

What we want to do is incentivize both broad, city-level thinking as well as localized district-level advocacy.  This could be accomplished in a couple different ways:

  • We could use a mixture of district and at-large seats.  For example, draw three districts and retain two at-large seats.

OR

  • We could institute the at-large election of a mayor.  Currently, the mayor is selected from the existing council members, by the existing council members.  Giving voters the chance to elect a mayor would provide a strong city-level voice on the council.

Conclusion
Despite how this issue was brought to our attention, I think that district-based voting could have a really positive impact on Citrus Heights.  It’s always worth reevaluating how our electoral structures affect the residents of the city and in this case, I believe that we’ve found a problem that a) impacts a substantial amount of people, and b) we can do something about.

Let’s get started.

Marcel C. Weiland is a resident of Citrus Heights and a former member of the Citrus Heights Planning Commission.  He can be reached at mcweiland@gmail.com

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