The school board took a lot of heat for making the decision to go to district elections. As it turns out they made the exact right decision – as we have now seen from what has happened with the city.
The city seems willing to make the move to district elections – although we have still not seen the actual council weigh in. But Matt Rexroad is not simply going to sit back and accept that the city does it on their own time.
“They can’t admit the election process is illegal and then do another illegal election,” he told me, arguing that they have plenty of time to go to district elections for November 2020 elections.
City officials believe there are some complications, but that is going to end up being what the fight is over.
Bob Dunning lamented the decision for the school district to accede to the possibility of a lawsuit. He argued that he believed that the district could win a legal challenge.
Looking back at his column from just about a month ago gives us a bit more perspective now in light of the city’s legal challenge.
“Are you being disenfranchised? Indeed you are. Do the math and you’ll realize you just lost 80 percent of your voting power,” he argues.
But that’s a trickier calculation than you think. The most interesting factor is one reason why we might be facing this in that some areas of town have numerous council and school board reps who live there, while others have none. For instance, South Davis might be the reason that Matt Rexroad was hired in the first place – the belief that having one member of the council from South Davis will make sure that their interests are represented on the council.
Mr. Dunning writes: “In some cities, simple fairness demands district elections to make sure that traditionally underrepresented groups have a fair shot at holding office.”
He adds, “Davis is not such a city. Put simply, there is not a readily identifiable group of underrepresented people who all live in the same part of town. No matter how we draw the district lines, it will be hard to distinguish the demographics of one district from another.”
There are several problems with this argument.
First of all, as the city memo points out, “a minority group does not have to be geographically compact or concentrated to allege a violation of the CVRA.” In other words, while Bob Dunning might be correct here, it does not matter.
Second, as our column from yesterday demonstrates, whether you can argue that district elections will remedy the problem or not, people of color are underrepresented in city government. That is true for the council and it is also true for the school board.
Furthermore, some readers apparently got a lesson in federal discrimination law, but protected groups and protected classes are even more disadvantaged in the current system.
Third, unfortunately it does not appear that we can get demographic data at the precinct level, but we actually do believe there are areas of town where there are heavier concentrations of Latinos as well as low-income people in Davis and district elections could well help draw lines that would increase minority voting power.
Fourth, even without that advantage, the lower barrier to entry and the lower cost of running could also help disadvantaged groups gain voting power.
In short, the point that Mr. Dunning raises does not legally matter and could be wrong anyway.
Mr. Dunning adds: “Still, I defy these outsiders to point out to a court of law how district elections in Davis would even remotely benefit a currently underrepresented group. That case simply cannot be made.”
As we pointed out, legally speaking, a petitioner would not have to make that showing. They can show that such groups are currently disadvantaged, and we frankly do not have the data to show that they wouldn’t be advantaged.
Mr. Dunning also cites Al Sokolow, who wrote, “It is hard to see much practical value in the shift from at-large to district elections for Davis School Board members.”
He adds, “That’s not to say that district voting to select local government legislators doesn’t make sense in some kinds of community situations. It does, but not in Davis.”
Mr. Sokolow noted that the impetus for district elections was a desire “to overcome the discrimination inherent when racial or ethnic minorities were heavily concentrated in particular neighborhoods, but lacked the numbers to elect candidates under an at-large arrangement. Davis lacks such geographical concentrations.”
It is probably worth repeating that Mr. Sokolow, like Mr. Dunning, is arguing a point that has no legal bearing on the issue. But that doesn’t mean his point is correct either. Both men are making essentially the same argue: Davis doesn’t have geographic concentrations of minorities. But neither of them rely on data to make their point. Neither of them consider that Valley Oak located on 8th Street had a heavy concentration of Title I students as does Montgomery.
And finally, neither of them are willing to look beyond the issue of concentration and look at the lower barrier for running in a district one-fourth or one-fifth the size of the city as opposed to the entire city.
In the end, the city has no choice, just like the school district had no choice. The law is written in such a way that the city won’t prevail any more than the school district would have. And if you look at the number of people of color elected in Davis compared to their numbers, you end up with the conclusion that this is probably the right thing to do anyway.
—David M. Greenwald reporting reporting