Analysis: Rexroad Believes He Has Enough to Prove RPV in Davis

Under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), a political entity such as the city of Davis is prohibited from from using any at-large method of election that “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgement of the rights of voters are members of the protected class….”

As such, an at-large voting system violates this standard when “racially polarized voting,” or RPV, exists.

Here is the key, as attorneys Derek P. Cole and Sean D. De Burgh write on the California Special Districts Association website (CSDA): “RPV exists when there is a difference in how members of a protected class vote versus members not within the protected class.”

Matt Rexroad told the Vanguard they have found about a dozen really solid examples.  Under the law, RPV is not just determined by how the electorate votes in elections involving the city council, but rather any election.

For the purpose of illustrating this, we will demonstrate two clear examples.

In the Davis City Council race, the battle between Gloria Partida and Dan Carson for mayor came down to the Latino vote.

In the precincts that were the least Latino, Dan Carson prevailed over Gloria Partida – albeit by a narrow margin.  However, Dan Carson’s vote declined markedly as the Latino voter registration share increased.  At 4 percent, Dan Carson performed at around 37 percent.  At 20 percent, Dan Carson polled near 20 percent.  Meanwhile, Gloria Partida’s vote share increased from under 35 percent to nearly 40 percent as the Latino vote increased.

In the Senate battle between Diane Feinstein and Latino challenger Kevin DeLeon – the longtime Senator dominated in the precincts where Latinos were in the single digits, but as the Latino vote increased, the margin narrowed.  On the high end, it was more than 60-40 in favor of Senator Feinstein.  At the 20 percent end, that narrowed to less than 55-45.

According to Mr. Rexroad, “If we show RPV — then they have to go to districts.”

The key point he made to the Vanguard is if they go to court and show RPV: “Then the statute only provides one remedy — go to districts.”

Some have suggested other remedies, but going to district elections is the only remedy under the law.

Mr. Rexroad said, “Look at Dan Carson…the slope of his line is steep.”  He added, “Look at Feinstein and KDL — the slope is what matters.  If no RPV the lines would be flat.  They are not flat.

“Bob Dunning assumes they are flat. He is wrong,” he stated.

He adds, “I really don’t know how the city says they don’t have RPV with what we know.”

Part of what these numbers demonstrate is the impact that moving from a district that has a 4 percent Latino vote to a district that is 20 percent of the Latino vote has for Latino candidates.  Consider that one does not need a majority in the district in order to make a huge difference in the outcome.

Also, consider that the council race usually has entailed multiple candidates – not simply two.  Each additional candidate increases the chance in a district election of a minority candidate to win.

In a good article, John E. McDermott explains how the CVRA works.  Under federal voting rights law, challenges to California voting failed.

As Mr. McDermott explains, the model didn’t work in California, precisely BECAUSE the Latinos, the group most often challenging at-large elections, “are not typically residentially concentrated, voting is less polarized and the electorate is more diverse.”

Indeed, he noted, that FVRA (Federal Voting Rights Act) cases failed, because a majority Latino district could not be created as required under the federal system.  Or it failed “because Latinos were winning in at-large systems as well as or better than was predicted under a district system.”

Note that the CVRA then was created precisely for the reasons that naysayers are claiming we do not need district elections in Davis.

Here are the elements.  First, anyone from any racial, ethnic, or language group can sue and challenge an at-large election system.  Again, all they must prove is RPV.

Moreover, “Unlike the PVRA, the CVRA does not require proof that RPV actually results in the defeat of a group’s preferred candidate.”  In other words, the RPV does not need to result in the electoral defeat of a minority.  Therefore, the fact that Gloria Partida won is not sufficient to invalidate a claim of RPV.

Does Rexroad have enough to win?  We will probably never know.  Most likely the city won’t risk the cost of going to an election where the chance of prevailing is very small and where the act of challenging is itself problematic.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Robert Canning

    In the paragraph above the first chart you say “district”. I assume the data points in the chart are precincts.  Is this correct?

    What is the reference for the McDermott article you cite??

  2. Dianne C Tobias

    Am late to this issue but if district elections do you think there will be multiple candidates in each or uncontested districts which I think would be discouraging?

    1. Craig Ross

      Why would it be discouraging when the reality is that right now it takes about 6000 to as much as 11,000 votes to win, meaning walking 100 precincts and spending 20 to 30K.  Under districts the number of votes needed would be maybe as low as 1500 to 3000 and the preincts will be at most 20 to 25 and the cost will be much lower.  That would encourage more participation, not discourage it.

      1. Matt Williams

        I agree Craig.  The threshold  would be even lower if the City went to more districts than the current 5.  I also believe that smaller districts would almost surely improve the representation end result for both the Hispanic and Asian minorities.

  3. Alan Miller

    — the slope is what matters.

    Did Rexroad, a Republican, also do an analysis of the steepness of the curves by party?  To see if Republicans are being disenfranchised in Davis . . . and if certain districts could elect a Republican to Davis City Council?   I bet he did.

    1. Eric Gelber

      Yes, irrelevant to the law. But, as I’ve previously noted, to the extent districts are drawn to increase concentrations of minority voters, it will mean that some districts will be correspondingly relatively whiter. Given the demographics of the GOP (older, whiter), such districts would likely be more conservative. A district that eventually includes WDAAC, for example, would likely be more conservative than the city overall. This may explain the interest of the Davis College Republicans, whose Communications Director has weighed in in support of district voting.

      1. David Greenwald

        Rexroad told me directly that none of this will result in Republicans getting elected in Davis City Council races and that’s not why this action was taken.

        1. Eric Gelber

          I’ll take him at his word that that’s not the intent or a motivation for challenging Davis’ at-large voting. But, until voting districts are actually determined, no one can say what the overall impact will be. I’ll add that, regardless, I think going to district voting is, on balance, positive because it increases the likelihood that diverse perspectives will be represented on the Council.

  4. Alan Miller

    Whatever the f**king law says, this isn’t about racial “polarization” as the term implies extremes, this is about a general tendency for people to vote for people who come from similar backgrounds to them, be it belief system, political party, musical taste, favorite sports team, religion, race or skin tone, there is a likely “slope”.  The term “polarization” is polarizing and a stupid term for what they are describing.

    1. Robert Canning

      If people tend to “vote for people who come from similar backgrounds to them” how did Barack Obama get elected in a white-majority country?

      1. David Greenwald

        This gets us way off topic, but look at the splits black – white on Obama…  Only 39 percent of Whites voted Obama (Romney got 59 percent of the white vote).  93 percent of blacks voted for Obama.  That example actually proves rather than disapproves the point.  Obama won because he won non-whites much more handily than he lost the white vote.

        1. Robert Canning

          Correct. In 2008 and 2012 there were similar patterns for racial groups but more women voted for Obama than men. So the point is good for some groups but not others.

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