Several county cities change election formats under threat of lawsuit

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The threat of a major lawsuit has led to several San Diego County cities changing how they are holding elections. As voters in those districts head to the polls or get their mail-in ballots, they will notice a big change in their options on who to vote for.

15 jurisdictions in the county are switching from at-large elections to district elections. This means those jurisdictions have been carved up into districts. In those races voters will only be able to vote for someone who lives in that same district.

"It's going to create some confusion at the ballot box," Encinitas City Councilmember Tony Kranz told 10News. "You're going to wonder why you can't vote for some of those folks."

Encinitas made the change for 2018, along with Carlsbad, El Cajon, Oceanside, Poway, San Marcos, Santee and Vista. School Districts using the new voting system are Cajon Valley Union, Carlsbad Unified, Oceanside Unified, Poway Unified, San Dieguito Union High School, and San Marcos Unified.

In most cases, the change is a response to a threatened lawsuit. Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who works in Malibu, has threatened lawsuits challenging the legality of at-large elections across California. He says at-large elections are a violation of California's Voter's Rights Act of 2001.

"It's just a fundamentally unfair election system that freezes out minorities," Shenkman told 10News.

Shenkman says at-large elections make it easier for the majority, even a slim majority, to take full control city councils, school boards, and other elected bodies. He says studies have shown that leaves minority groups without a voice.

In an interview with 10News, he pointed out examples, including a claim that Hispanic voters did not have enough representation in Encintas, and a claim that voters in the southern portion of Poway have disproportionally less power than those in other parts of Poway.

"District elections are just a more fair system," Shenkman says.

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