District Elections FAQ
What is the difference between “at large” and “district” elections?
The City of Millbrae ("the City") currently elects its five City Councilmembers “at large.” This means that each registered voter in the City has the opportunity to vote for all open City Council seats in an election.
Under a district-based election system, the City is divided into geographic sections (districts). Voters within each district vote only for council candidates living within the same district. Voters will not vote for candidates outside of their own district.
Why is the City moving to district elections?
In March 2021, the City received a letter from Attorney Kevin Shenkman alleging that the City’s current at-large Councilmember electoral system violates the California Voting Rights Act ("CVRA”). The letter demanded that the City change to a district-based election system for electing City Councilmembers or risk a lawsuit pursuant to the CVRA.
Under the CVRA, if there is even minimal evidence of racially polarized voting (see explanation below), then elections are to be held by district. Upon receipt of such a letter, the City had two options: a) transition to district-based elections; or b) defend against a lawsuit asserting a CVRA violation.
After a thorough evaluation of the options, the City has chosen to transition to district-based elections.
What is “racially polarized voting”?
Racially polarized voting does not means that voters are racist or that there is any intentional or deliberate discriminatory intent when voters make their choices. Instead, it is a mathematical correlation that suggests the extent to which people may vote according to race. And, if people vote according to race, the votes of minority voters may be diluted by the majority vote in an at-large jurisdiction. As a result, minority voters are unable to elect candidates of their choice. It does not mean there are no minority candidates or that minority candidates have not been elected. The theory is just that it is more difficult for the voices of minority voters to be heard.
In prohibiting at-large elections where racially polarized voting is shown to exist, the CVRA remedy of district based-elections seeks to ensure that the votes of minority voters are not diluted, and minority voters have more opportunity to elect candidates of their choice.
What is the California Voting Rights Acts?
The CVRA was passed by the California State Legislature in 2001 based on the Legislature’s belief that minorities and other members of protected classes were being denied the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice in at-large elections because such elections can dilute the votes of minority voters. Upon a finding of a violation of the CVRA, a court can implement appropriate remedies, including the imposition of district-based elections that are tailored to remedy the violation.
What have other jurisdictions done when challenged under the CVRA?
Hundreds of cities, school districts, and other local agencies in California have faced similar challenges and alleged violations of the CVRA in recent years. To date, no city or special district has successfully defended a CVRA lawsuit.
Other cities have either voluntarily or been forced to adopt changes from at-large to district elections. While some cities have settled the claims of alleged CVRA violations, others have defended at-large elections through the court system, have lost, and have incurred significant legal costs because the CVRA gives plaintiffs the right to recover attorney's fees. Moreover, upon losing a CVRA lawsuit, the judge draws the districts rather than the city. During the October 12, 2021 City Council meeting, the City Council unanimously voted in favor of adopting a Resolution of Intent to transition to a district-based elections system for the election of City Councilmembers based on the threat of litigation and the high cost to the tune of millions of dollars that so many other cities have experienced in defending against a CVRA lawsuit.
What is the process for transitioning to district elections?
The districting process timeline is prescribed by Elections Code section 10010. For Millbrae, the first step occurred on October 12, 2021 when the City Council adopted a Resolution of Intent to transition to district-based elections.
The transition process includes at least five required public hearings/meetings/workshops. Ordinarily this process must be completed within ninety (90) days of passing the Resolution of Intent. However, the City has secured an extension pursuant to Elections Code section 10010(c)(i) to complete this transition by March 1, 2022.
The process involves gathering public input on "communities of interest" (see explanation below), collecting community-submitted draft maps, and accepting feedback on maps until the City Council decides on a final district map. The Council will then consider an ordinance adopting the final district map and an election sequence on or before March 1, 2022. The first by-district City Council election will be held in November 2022.
What criteria are used to draw the districts and who creates them?
Many factors may be considered in drawing district boundaries, but population equality is the most important criterion. Other factors include:
Topography: natural barriers, boundaries, or landmarks
Geography: major streets and neighborhood blocks
Cohesiveness: contiguity, integrity, and compactness of the area
Communities of interest: established neighborhoods, groups with cultural bonds, common issues or concerns, voting precincts, or other types of divisions
Community input and the new 2020 Census data will be used to create districts. The City will utilize the services of a demographer firm, Redistricting Partners, to help create proposed district boundaries. At a public hearing scheduled for November 9, 2021, the City will begin taking public input on existing communities of interest and how maps should be drawn. Following 2 or 3 public hearings to obtain input and feedback from the Millbrae constituents, Redistricting Partners will draft proposed maps that ensure compliance with the Federal Voting Rights Act and the CVRA requirements. These proposed maps will be shared with the City Council and the public in subsequent hearings for further consideration and potential revision. Ultimately, by or before March 1, 2022, the City Council will adopt the final district map by ordinance.
What are communities of interest?
A community of interest is a neighborhood or community that would benefit from being in the same district because of shared interests or views such as:
School attendance areas
Natural neighborhood dividing lines such as roads, hills, or highways
Areas around parks and other landmarks
Common issues, neighborhood activities or legislative/election concerns
Shared demographic characteristics, such as:
Similar levels of income, education, or linguistic isolation
Languages spoken at home
Single-family and multifamily housing units
Throughout the transition process, the City seeks public input and assistance in identifying these communities of interest in the City.
How many districts will Millbrae have?
Millbrae, as a California General Law city, has five councilmembers who are elected at-large. The Mayor is currently appointed by the City Council annual rotation. With the transition to district elections, the City may have either four districts and a Mayor elected at-large by all of Millbrae's voters, or five districts with the Mayor rotated annually by City Council selection. The public is invited to provide input on this question. The City Council will decide which of these two options will be implemented.
How will the change to a "by district" councilmember election system affect me?
Beginning in November of 2022, voters will only be able to vote for one City Councilmember who resides in the electoral district in which the voter lives.
The current City Councilmembers will continue in office until the expiration of their now current terms and until their successors are elected and qualified. The first district elections will be held in the November 2022 election and the transition process will be completed with the November 2024 election.
What qualifications are required to run for a district council seat?
A candidate must be a registered voter of the City of Millbrae and must reside in the district in which said voter seeks to serve at the time nomination papers are issued to the candidate. (Government Code section 34882.)
After a councilmember is elected to a district seat, may the councilmember move out of the district?
If the councilmember moves out of the district, the councilmember must vacate the City Council seat. (Government Code section 34882.)
How can I participate?
The City Council will conduct more than five (5) public hearings/meetings/workshops to receive community feedback on; (a) the option to pursue four districts with an at-large Mayor or five districts, (b) the proposed composition of districts; and, (c) the elections sequence. At least two public hearings will be held at the beginning of the process where the public is invited to provide input regarding the composition of the districts and the option of four districts with an at-large Mayor or five districts. The latter issue will be decided by the council before the process of drawing proposed maps commences. At least three public hearings will subsequently be held to discuss the proposed district maps and the elections sequencing. The public is invited to all of these meetings to provide input.
Residents can participate through a variety of in-person or remote opportunities. You can view the schedule the city has planned for a list of public hearings/meetings/workshops at the following link: https://www.ci.millbrae.ca.us/departments-services/city-clerk/process-and-schedule.
If you wish to submit comments for a public hearing, please do any of the following:
Raise your “Zoom” hand during the hearing to comment live.
You can also participate by submitting comments and information related to communities of interest at the following link: https://www.ci.millbrae.ca.us/departments-services/city-clerk/district-elections/communities-of-interest-form.
In addition, the City is making available through its consultant, Redistricting Partners, the use of online mapping tools. Link will be provided soon.
How will the final map be chosen?
Under the guidance of the demographer and with public input at the public hearings, the City Council by ordinance will vote to approve a specific district map for future city council elections by the March 1, 2022 deadline.
How often are the voting districts reviewed?
Voting districts are reviewed every ten (10) years, following the release of updated U.S. Census figures. The next time districts will be reviewed after the initial drawing of district boundaries pursuant to the present process will be 2031.
Who can I contact if I have additional questions?
Should you have any other questions which are not answered by this FAQ, please contact the Acting City Clerk, Eduardo Gonzalez at email@example.com.