Porterville voters will elect city council members by districts, the city has decided, settling a voting rights lawsuit and avoiding an expensive battle that other cities have lost.
Currently, candidates for city council are elected “at large,” or citywide.
Porterville, population 59,908 a year ago, is joining a long list San Joaquin Valley cities and school districts that moved – at times unwillingly – to district elections.
Porterville residents John and Rosemary Duran allege the city’s at-large elections violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. They are represented by attorneys Marguerite Melo and John Sarsfield of Visalia, who told the city in August that a lawsuit was likely.
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The suit, filed last month in Tulare County Superior Court, said the city’s at-large voting system caused “vote dilution” for Latino and minority voters, impairing their ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of elections.
A settlement reached about two weeks later requires the city to hold district elections by 2020 and complete the transition by 2022. But the first elections will take place this year, said Patrice Hildreth, the city’s administrative services director.
A demographer hired in October is now drawing proposed maps, and the city council is on track to adopt a final map in March, she said.
Three years ago, the council considered going to districts but decided against it after a demographer said the case for districts in Porterville was “borderline,” she said.
By settling, the city avoided additional legal and related costs, Hildreth said.
Cities that have made the change to district elections after being sued or threatened with a suit include Modesto, Merced, Visalia and Tulare. Several school districts have changed to election by area, including in Madera, Fresno, Hanford and Visalia.