On November 27, 2020 the City of Millbrae received a letter from Mr. You You Xue claiming the City’s at large election system for electing candidates to the City Council violated the California Voters Right Act (CVRA).
On March 5, 2021, the City of Millbrae received a letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman claiming the City’s at-large electoral system violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The letter states "“I write on behalf our client, Southwest voter Registration Education Project and its members residing within the City of Millbrae (“Millbrae” or “City”) as well as You You Xue. Millbrae relies upon an at-large election system for electing candidates to its governing board. Moreover, voting within the City of Millbrae is racially polarized resulting in minority vote dilution, and therefore, the City’s at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.”
The CVRA, which was passed in 2002, prohibits at-large elections when it can be shown that they impair the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of their choice or to influence elections in a significant way. The law was passed in part due to a lack of success by plaintiffs utilizing the CVRA's federal counterpart, the Federal Voting Rights Act, to show that "racially polarizing voting" exists in the jurisdiction; they do not need to show any intent of voters or City of Millbrae officials to discriminate against the underrepresented class. They also do not need to prove that changing to district elections would increase representation on the elected body in question.
CVRA made it easier for plaintiffs to prevail in lawsuits against public entities by removing a number of procedural safeguards and burden of proof requirements that exist under the Federal Voting Rights Act (“FVRA”). Prevailing plaintiff has the right to recover their reasonable attorneys’ fees and expert witness cost. However, there is no attorney fee or cost recovery allowed should the City of Millbrae prevail, unless the City of Millbrae can prove the claim was frivolous. Other municipalities & local governmental agencies that have opposed CVRA challenges in court have either voluntarily adopted district elections or were forced by the courts to covert and pay millions of taxpayer funds in attorneys’ fees.
On October 12,2021, the Council adopted Resolution Number 21-70 reflecting its intent to transition from at-large to by-district for Council elections.
To assist with the transition, the City of Millbrae hired Redistricting Partners, a firm that specializes in drawing district lines for jurisdictions. Redistricting Partners will provide a presentation on the districting process on November 9, 2021 City Council Meeting.
The City of Millbrae is currently an at-large elections system, which means voters of the entire City of Millbrae elect the five City Council members. As a general law city, the city has the option to a) divide into five separate districts with a rotating Mayor, or b) divide into four separate districts with a at large elected Mayor. Each councilmember must reside within the district and chosen only by the electors residing in that particular district.