Roseville switching to district-based City Council elections to avoid costly legal challenge

Roseville will begin transitioning its City Council elections to a district-based model, a move intended largely to avoid an expensive legal challenge.

The Roseville City Council unanimously voted Wednesday to move forward with the switch, following the lead of cities across the Sacramento region and the state. The change is meant to ensure the city is compliant with the California Voting Rights Act, which bars public agencies from using at-large election systems if it limits the ability of a minority group to influence election results.

Davis and Citrus Heights were both hit with demand letters this year, with lawyers threatening to sue the cities over their at-large voting systems. In California, more than 250 public agencies, including school boards, water districts and municipalities, have stopped using at-large voting in the face of litigation, according to a Roseville staff report.

Cities that have chosen to fight the claims of disenfranchised minority voters have cost some cities in California millions of dollars in settlements.

In Roseville, Hispanics make up 15 percent of the overall population, Asians make up 10 percent, blacks make up 2 percent and Native Americans make up 1 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The city is 69 percent white.

How will this change Roseville elections?

The city will be divided either into four districts with an at-large mayor, or into five districts. Residents will be able to vote only for a candidate who lives in their district.

Those maps will be devised using census geography, the density of racial and ethnic groups in the city, zoning and other factors, according to city staff reports.

Residents will be able to provide feedback on proposed district maps, and how the mayor should be elected, over the next three months at several public hearing. The Roseville City Council is expected to approve the district map by Nov. 20.

The first district-based election will likely occur in 2020.

How much will it cost?

The city estimates the switch will cost between $35,000 and $50,000.

This includes the extra $5,000 cost to the Placer County Registrar of Voters to conduct the district-based election, which is more expensive than an at-large election.

The cost also includes the $30,750 to pay for a demographer to help draw the boundaries for the voting districts.

Related stories from Sacramento Bee

Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks covers Sacramento County and the cities and suburbs beyond the capital. She’s previously worked at The New York Times and NPR, and is a former Bee intern. She graduated from UC Berkeley, where she was the managing editor of The Daily Californian.
Support my work with a digital subscription