Groups work to explain new Escondido voting districts

Groups work to explain new Escondido voting districts

ESCONDIDO — The North County ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) is urging Escondido locals to advocate for their community as the city prepares to draw voting boundaries for upcoming City Council elections.

“The goal is to create districts that represent a community,” said Lori Shellenberger, the director of the ACLU of California’s Voting Rights Project. Speaking before residents at a community forum on Sept. 24, she said, “Speak up and work together to establish your communities.”

Escondido must be divided into four voting districts to elect City Council members as a result of a lawsuit against the city that alleged that the city’s at-large elections discriminated against Latinos, who make up the majority of the city’s population.

Reached in March 2013, the lawsuit settlement requires that one city council member will be elected from each district while the mayor will still be elected with a city-wide vote. Candidates will have to live in the district they are elected from.

The current City Council must sign off on the voting district boundaries before the next election in November 2014, but otherwise has no ability to alter or influence how the boundaries are drawn.

A panel of retired San Diego judges appointed seven people to serve on an Independent Districting Commission for Escondido at the end of August. With help from the City Clerk’s Office, the City Attorney’s office, and a private consultant, the commission will host a series of public hearings to adopt plans to divide the city into the four districts.

To comply with voting laws, the districts must be drawn to cover a contiguous geographic area and with respect to community interests, including racial, ethnic and language minority groups.

Districts will be used for all future City Council elections, and boundaries can be changed every 10 years to reflect the city’s changing population.

As part of its support for voting rights, the ACLU has volunteered to help Escondido community members understand the districting shift and propose voting borders that incorporate their neighborhoods. The organization is hosting community meetings throughout the city.

Shellenberger explained to about 80 attendees that districting encourages more people to vote since fewer votes are needed for a candidate to be elected. She also said that campaigning for a district vote is less expensive since candidates have to campaign over a smaller area, which in turn encourages new people to run.

She suggested that locals consider proposing districts based on similar community concerns, social and economic backgrounds, culture, language, and affiliations.

Several members of the Independent Districting Commission attended the meeting as well, and called for community members to speak to them about the districts they want.

“We want your input. We want to hear from the community. So please, help us,” said Commissioner Bill Flores.

For more information about future community meetings hosted by the ACLU, contact the ACLU North County branch at (760) 294-9522.

For more information about the public hearings hosted by the Independent Districting Commission, visit escondido.org/independent-districting.aspx.

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