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Transition to Division-Based Elections

In 2002, the Legislature enacted the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) (Elec. Code §§14025 – 14032), which prohibits California public agencies, like the Oceano Community Services District (the “District,”) from imposing or applying an at-large election method “that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election” (Elec. Code §14027). A protected class is defined by the CVRA as “a class of voters who are members of a race, color, or language minority group, as this class is referenced and defined in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965”.  In a lawsuit brought pursuant to the CVRA, a plaintiff who establishes a history of “racially polarized voting” under a public agency’s at-large election system can require it to change to a district-based election system and the District would be liable for the plaintiff’s legal fees up to $30,000 adjusted for inflation.

It became apparent that some in the community were asserting racially-polarized voting in the District and might be preparing to file a lawsuit. On September 9, 2020, the Board of Directors of the District proactively adopted a resolution outlining its intention to transition from at-large to division-based elections to limit the District’s liability for potential plaintiff legal fees . (For a copy of the resolution – click here.)

The community’s input in the development of the voting divisions is very important to this process. The District will hold two public hearings before maps are developed to get community input on where division boundaries should be drawn. Draft maps will be developed from these public hearings. These public hearings are scheduled to be held on June 9, 2021 and June 23, 2021 at 6:00pm at the District offices.  Two additional public hearings will be held to present and take comment on the draft map or maps. These public hearings are scheduled to be held on March 9, 2022 and March 23, 2022 at 6:00pm at the District offices.

What is the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA)?

What it is: The CVRA seeks to ensure that every community has an opportunity to elect the candidate(s) of their choice in local elections.

Does this only impact the District? No, public agencies throughout California have faced challenges to their at-large elections, including the City of Grover Beach and the City of Arroyo Grande.

How will the change to By-Division elections affect me?  Voters will only vote for one board candidate who resides in the electoral division in which you live. The current board members will continue in office until the expiration of their terms and until their successors are elected and qualified.

General Facts about By-Division Elections:

  • Each geographic area of the District area will be represented by one board member.
  • By-Division elections do not change the District’s overall boundaries.
  • The District will be divided into five geographically defined divisions that are approximately equal in population.
  • A professional demographer was contracted to assist in dividing the District accordingly.
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