City of Pleasanton
9/16/2021 9:27:26 AM
9/16/2021 9:27:20 AM
CITY CLERK - TYPE
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BACKGROUND <br /> The City of Pleasanton currently has an at-large election system. Each of the City's four <br /> Councilmembers and the Mayor are elected by voters throughout the city. <br /> Councilmembers are elected for a four-year term, while the Mayor is elected for a two- <br /> year term. <br /> On August 5, 2021, the City received a letter from the Shenkman & Hughes law firm on <br /> behalf of Southwest Voter Registration Education Project alleging "racially polarized <br /> voting" in Pleasanton and threatening litigation if the City declines to voluntarily convert <br /> to district-based elections. "Racially polarized voting" means voting in which there is a <br /> difference in the choice of candidates or other electoral choices that are preferred by <br /> voters of a protected class, than in the choice of candidates and electoral choices that <br /> are preferred by voters in the rest of the electorate. Specifically, the letter asserts that <br /> the City's at-large electoral system dilutes the ability of Latinos and Asians, both <br /> protected classes, to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome <br /> of Pleasanton's council elections, and that, as a result, Pleasanton's at-large election <br /> system violates the CVRA. <br /> DISCUSSION <br /> California Voting Rights Act <br /> The CVRA was signed into law in 2002. The CVRA prohibits an at-large method of <br /> election that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its <br /> ability to influence the outcome of an election. The law's intent is to expand protections <br /> against vote dilution over those provided by the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965 <br /> ("FVRA"). The law was also motivated, in part, by the lack of success by plaintiffs in <br /> California in lawsuits challenging at-large electoral systems brought under the FVRA. <br /> The passage of the CVRA made it easier for plaintiffs to prevail in lawsuits against <br /> public entities that elected their members to its governing body through "at-large" <br /> elections. A plaintiff may need to only prove the existence of"racially polarized voting" <br /> to establish liability under the CVRA. Other factors are also relevant in determining <br /> liability. Proof of intent on the part of voters or elected officials to discriminate against a <br /> protected class is not required. <br /> As a result, cities throughout the state have increasingly been facing legal challenges to <br /> their "at-large" systems of electing city councilmembers. Almost all cities that have <br /> received a legal challenge have settled claims out of court by agreeing to voluntarily <br /> shift to district-based elections. Those that have opposed CVRA challenges in courts <br /> have ultimately either voluntarily adopted, or have been forced to adopt, district-based <br /> elections. The CVRA grants a prevailing plaintiff the right to recover reasonable <br /> attorneys' fees and expert witness fees. This has resulted in payment of very large <br /> amounts of money in attorneys' fees by cities that have chosen to litigate the CVRA <br /> challenge. <br /> For example, some of the notable CVRA attorneys' fee settlement amounts that have <br /> been reported include: a $4.5 million settlement in the City of Palmdale; a $3 million <br /> settlement in the City of Modesto; and a $1 .1 million settlement in the City of Anaheim. <br /> Page 2 of 4 <br />
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