Guest Commentary: Moving to District Elections


by Dillan Horton

In a democracy it is absolutely crucial that every person has equal representation. This is an ideal we all share but it is one that we are still struggling to fully realize. This is a struggle with high stakes and deep personal meaning to many of us.

That’s why I have been a long-time advocate for district elections, because they can shape a more representative and responsive government. District elections provide better representation for people of color, for people of lower socio-economic levels, and for parts of the city with specific needs. Earlier this year I introduced a resolution to the Yolo County Democratic Party asking city councils and school boards to move to district elections. After it was adopted I presented it to the Davis City Council and I hoped we would be able to make progress before a lawsuit came.

Now the prospect of an expensive lawsuit is at our doorstep and our community has some important choices to make. To implement districts in good faith we must do so in a way that is thoughtful, deliberate, and inclusive. To draw the districts we need the most accurate population statistics of our city. To consult the community we need an in-depth outreach process that educates people on this transition and solicits their input on how we should move forward. Doing this the right way will take time.

The reality is, there simply isn’t enough time to do that, even by November 2020. In the middle of 2020 we’re going to be conducting the Census. This will give us important up-to-date statistics that will inform the best possible drawing of the districts. With that information we can build an in-depth outreach process with the community to transition to districts in March 2022. This is how the city should move forward and act in good faith to implement these districts in a way we can be proud of.

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Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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19 thoughts on “Guest Commentary: Moving to District Elections”

  1. Alan Miller

    DH, I don’t agree about district elections, but your piece and your approach are well thought out.  I’m impressed you already brought this to the Council, who apparently didn’t act, if I am understanding the sudden deluge of spew on this subject.  It shows you are on the wrong side of the dais.


  2. Matt Williams

    Dillan and Alan, why kick the can down the road?  Fix the problem in 2020, and then when the updated Census information becomes available, make adjustments if warranted.

    The biggest problem I have with Dillan’s approach is that before the 2020 Census information is published in 2021, the data will be out of date.  Dillan’s approach is treating an ever-moving target as if it is stationary.  Dillan’s approach isn’t consistent with the reality of the “60% of the population lives in rental housing” reality of Davis.  Nor is it consistent with the fact that a massive proportion of any year’s renters will be living at a different address 12 months after any chosen “window in time” where a census snapshot is taken.

    Bottom-line, Dillan is proposing a form of analysis paralysis, and unlike Alan, I think that indicates that Dillan might not be ready to inhabit one of the seats on the other side of the dais.


    1. Alan Miller

      MWi, Restructuring a City election process is no easy or quick task.  Just because students move alot – well, that’s the nature of the Davis beast.  There has to be a date, and census data is the most accurate.  Why rush this, if City can come to agreement to move the process forward and thoughtfully, unless the extorters are running the show, of course.

      1. David Greenwald

        You say why rush this – there a statutory time frame that could dictate the time line.  Right now the city is looking at 2022, but Matt Rexroad believes they should be compelled to do it by November.

        1. Bill Marshall

          November 2019?  That will prove interesting… or do you mean Nov 2020?  Am thinking it’s way too late for a special election this November…

          Just curious… if you mean 2020, do you espouse that it should be for all five seats (I do!)?

          Means 3 seats will be extended in term, 2 will be truncated.

          Just curious, David.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Oh… my bad again… with 3 seats open and currently scheduled for ballot in March 2020, might be 5 terms ‘truncated’ if the CC seats are up for vote in March 2020… or June, 2020… obviously, ‘good governance’… the purpose of the law that we must follow…

        3. Bill Marshall

          Repeating part of my question, David…

          In 2020, do you support elections for all 5 CC seats, some or all truncated, or in 3 cases, possibly extended?

          No CC on ballot in Mar or Jun 2020?

        4. Bill Marshall

          David… again… no CC election in March or June, terms for the three extended to December, AND grandfathering the other two?

          Or, go ahead with CC elections for 3 seats, in Mar/Jun and grandfather (or grandmother) them all in?

          How would those options comply with the law, or prevent a given new district from having 2 or more reps?

          Illogical… possibly, not lawful.

          1. David Greenwald

            “Illogical… possibly, not lawful.”

            It’s what happened with the school board a few years ago.

        5. Matt Williams

          David, how does grandfathering the two seats make the eventual solution better?

          Gazing into a crystal ball, of the incumbents Dan Carson stands alone in West Davis and Gloria Partida stands alone in East Davis. The chances of either of them being, by accident of demographic fate, in a district with Brett, Lucas or Will is extremely slim.

          You are overthinking.

          1. David Greenwald

            Just like a few years ago the school board switched from odd to even years, everyone on the board ended up serving five versus four years. It doesn’t make it better or worse, it’s a way of handling a change in the election date.

        6. Bill Marshall

          May be cynical, but perhaps someone wants to make sure a certain CC member is guaranteed 4+ years? (by ‘grandparenting’ two seats) [if we move to November CC elections, by 2022 at least two seats will be extended, as we saw with DJUSD when they moved from ‘off-years’ to Gen Elections… 3 members of the board got extended terms, as I recall…]

          Nah, that would be cynical… ignore that…

        7. Bill Marshall

          No David, it didn’t (grandfathering seats due to switching from at-large, to districts).  That is flat out untrue.

          What happened is when they went from an odd-year cycle to an even year cycle, the members had their terms extended a year.  Different.

          You’re conflating.

          Also, doesn’t mean it was legal.  Just means no one pushed the issue and challenged.  People do illegal things all the time, but are often not “caught at it”.  The only way it was “logical” was they were able to save the costs of one election cycle… and then, not fully… it (cost) was shifted a year, and was less since they were then on the same cycle as the Gen Elections. Their purpose was stated as ‘saving money’.

          What you propose (apparently) is to extend terms of 3 CC members by ~ 6 months, and have a morphodite system of two at-large, and three district CC members for ~ 2.5 years (assuming we have districts by Nov 2020, and no CC elections until then)[and, assuming the morphodite approach].  Fine, but own it for what it is.  But it is not logical, and may not be legal.


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