First published in the Feb. 4 print issue of the Burbank Leader.
In response to a letter alleging that Burbank’s electoral system might be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act, the City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 24, discussed transitioning to a district-based voting system and ultimately voted unanimously to issue a “resolution of intent” to transition to by-district elections.
The city will be in the process of developing a district map to bring Burbank to compliance with the CVRA.
On Aug. 23, the city received a notice of a potential violation of the California Voting Rights Act on behalf of a Burbank voter, Nick Gutierrez. The notice included a demand that the city change its at-large voting system to a by-district system.
“The City Council has 45 days from receipt of this letter to adopt a resolution outlining its intention to transition from at-large to district elections,” the letter stated.
District elections are being implemented throughout California. According to the law office of Radcliff Mayes, author of the letter to the City Council, no government agency in California has successfully defended a complaint alleging a violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
In a by-district electoral system, the city is divided into districts of equal population and only the voters residing in each district may vote for the candidates for City Council for that district, who themselves must also be residents and voters of that district. In Burbank’s existing at-large voting system, all voters in the city are entitled to vote for all candidates running for City Council.
In response, the City Council chose to move toward establishing single-member districts for City Council elections. The approved resolution of intent triggers a “safe-harbor period” of 90 days, in which time the city cannot be sued for violations of the CVRA.
The letter also asserted that there is a racially polarized voting system in Burbank that prevents Latinos from being elected. Margarite Leone, a redistricting expert contracted by the city, contended that Burbank would likely defeat those claims in court.
“For the election of minorities, Burbank has a positive history, and that would come to fare for the city in litigation,” Leone said.
The process for changing the municipal electoral system begins with Tuesday’s resolution. Moving forward, the city will hold public hearings around the redistricting process before ultimately drafting and adopting a map laying out voting districts.