One official from the city told me a few weeks ago that they had thought the school district bowed down too easily on the threat of district elections – until they looked at the statutes and case law and realized that there was no way to win.
I keep seeing arguments put forward that are not based on data analysis – they are not based on legal realities and they don’t pass the test.
A few weeks ago Bob Dunning made the claim that, by going to district elections, we would dilute your influence. Under the old system, you were able to vote for all five members, but now you will be able to vote for just one.
This argument was unfortunately repeated during a public comment last Tuesday. No one bothered to analyze it or do the math.
Under the current system, it is true you get to vote for all five of the candidates over the course of two elections. But there is a trade-off for that. The vote for the five candidates is less influential – on average – than it would be for voting for your one candidate.
Let us look at 2016 and 2018 to show how this works.
In 2018, the voters got to select two candidates. But there were 31,739 votes cast.
In 2016, the voters got to select three candidates. But there were 43,102 votes cast.
In the city of Davis, there are 39,463 registered voters. Last June, 20,196 turned out. If we assume those are distributed evenly across all five districts, that means there would be about 8000 registered voters per district and somewhere 4000 votes cast (assuming 50 percent turnout).
You might find yourself as one of 4000 or 5000 rather, getting to vote for five but having five votes among 74,841.
Bottom line is that, while you don’t get to vote for all five candidates, your actual influence for your one will be a lot higher. Plus it is much easier to mobilize and try to win 2000 votes than to need 6000 to 11000 votes in order to win.
Oh but there’s more.
Bob Dunning yesterday wrote that “the problem with tossing Davis into this mix is that we are not a city where traditionally underrepresented groups are concentrated in one specific area of town. Given that districts are contiguous, geographic entities, it’s folly to think that any political map drawn by fair-minded people can lead to more Asian-Americans or Latinos being elected to the Davis City Council.”
The first problem is that Mr. Dunning can argue this point all day, but as the city made clear in a memo, “The threshold required for showing a violation of the CVRA [California Voting Rights Act] is low.” More importantly, “a minority group does not have to be geographically compact or concentrated to allege a violation of the CVRA.”
So Mr. Dunning is throwing out an argument that is not legally viable because Mr. Rexroad and his clients do not have to make any kind of showing.
But even given that, it is not clear that Mr. Dunning is correct here with his argument. In fact, no one with whom I have inquired seems to have demographics broken down by precinct.
Jesse Salinas told the Vanguard, “If you are talking about precinct demographic information we don’t have that data at this time.”
That is unfortunate. The city doesn’t have that data either. When I asked Matt Rexroad if he had that data, he said he didn’t need it.
But what we do know is that when Valley Oak closed around 2008, it was the only district that was considered majority minority. We also know that currently Montgomery is the district’s only school that has a high concentration of Title I students (not just ethnic minorities, though many are, but low income).
In fact, if you consider the areas around Valley Oak that generated high concentrations of low income, minority students, the areas at Royal Oak and East Olive, and then the areas headed toward Montgomery including Greene Terrace, Owendale, and New Harmony, you actually have a demographic area that is contiguous and in proximity on a map that probably has a high concentration of Hispanic voters.
The idea that there aren’t concentrated pockets in Davis probably goes toward the invisibility of people of color in this community.
Mr. Dunning then writes that “it should be up to Rexroad and his pals who brought this threat to our doorstep to point out precisely in what manner districts could be drawn to achieve the goals they claim to support.”
Maybe it should be – but the reality is that it’s not. That is not burden they have under the law. And maybe that’s a problem or maybe that is a good thing because traditionally disadvantaged people often lack the resources to fight high stakes battles to prove they have been marginalized.
Bob Dunning concludes: “Otherwise, his threatened lawsuit is a charade and a sorry attempt to shame the city of Davis in an area where no shame is deserved.”
Actually the lawsuit is an attempt to get the city to adopt district elections, which they are entitled to do under the law.
Mr. Dunning then attempts to inflame: “I’ll put this as nicely as I can. Voting within Davis is not racially polarized, no matter what some out-of-town and out-of-touch attorney may want us to believe. Case dismissed.”
What do you mean voting in Davis is not racially polarized? People of color up until the last election held less than 20 percent of all offices in this community over the last 20 years. Moreover, Davis is racially polarized. That is why we see DJUSD as having one of the highest and most pervasive achievement gaps in the region. And that is why many people of color complain that they have been discriminated against in town, there are disproportionate traffic stops, and many people of color feel that they have been singled out by the police and their fellow citizens.
We don’t hear those voices, precisely because they have been marginalized.
When Gloria Partida became the first Latina elected to the city council, upon being sworn in she said, “Why does that matter? It matters because democracy is about representation. Everybody here on the dais brings their experiences and their realities into this space. They are voices for the community. The voices of women and color belong in this room.”
Those voices have traditionally not been included. 2018 was a big step forward as three women of color were elected in Davis – but does that mean that the problem of representation has been solved? I don’t think any one would reasonably agree with that.
None of this has to be proved by Mr. Rexroad by the way, but it does lend folly to the arguments put up by Mr. Dunning.
—David M. Greenwald reporting