Statement Regarding the Creation of Electoral Districts
Retrieved September 2, 2023 at 8:25 p.m.
This statement in opposition to the creation of electoral districts in Irvine is submitted to the members of the Irvine City Council for consideration in their deliberations and, if appropriate, for distribution to the general electorate.
OPPOSITION TO CREATION OF ELECTORAL DISTRICTS IN IRVINE
I have lived in Irvine since 1978. I oppose the current effort to divide the city into voting districts, ostensibly to comply with the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which seeks to give a greater voice to minorities in local elections. While I appreciate the considerations which likely caused the City Council to undertake this effort, I also must note that, after deciding to hold a public vote in March 2024 on the issue of whether to adopt by-district voting, the City Council has devoted most of its efforts to promoting the public’s participation in drafting district maps rather than offering opportunities for its citizens to discuss the topmost issue, whether the city’s residents should vote to adopt by-district elections. See https://drawirvine.org.
I recently discovered that the City Council failed to share with its constituents the forceful arguments made by the Irvine City Attorney as a counter to the demand for the alteration of its electoral system, including the following eloquent statement:
“If you could maintain a lawsuit against the City notwithstanding the impossibility of any alternate election system giving Latinos greater electoral power, the CVRA would be unconstitutional, at least as applied to Irvine. It is one thing to order a city to draw districts along race-based lines when doing so will give a protected class electoral strength it never had before. It is quite another to order a city to engage in such race-conscious line-drawing when it will achieve no purpose. The U. S. Supreme Court has condemned “[r]acial gerrymandering,” which threatens to “balkanize us into competing racial factions” and “to carry us further from the goal of a political system in which race
no longer matters.” (Shaw v. Reno (1993) 509 U.S. 630, 657.) Forcing the most integrated big city in the country to draw race-based districts would be a huge step backwards. “It would be an irony” if the CVRA ‘were interpreted to entrench racial
differences by expanding a ‘statute meant to hasten the waning of racism in American
politics.’” (Bartlett v. Strickland (2009) 556 U.S. 1, 25-26.)
Foundationally, there is no definitive evidence that moving from at-large to by-district voting will result in greater minority representation on the City Council (see, e.g., https://www.santamonica.gov/Media/Attorney/Election/2021.6.7_Amici%20Curiae%20Req%20for%20Jud%20Notice.pdf [Amicus brief filed in lawsuit against the city of Santa Monica for refusing to adopt a by-district system of election containing demand letter to the Irvine City Council and the response of the Irvine City Attorney]; https://electionlab.mit.edu/sites/default/files/2021-07/hertz_2020.pdf; https://www.goodtimes.sc/where-the-new-district-elections-system-went-wrong/; https://my.lwv.org/california/santa-monica/article/announcement-filing-amicus-brief-cvra-case). On the other hand, adopting by-district local elections may result in a number of harmful unintended consequences, including:
- Self-segregation of populations into like racial, ethnic, and other districts, the current equivalent of the now-disfavored racist doctrine known as “separate but equal,” except that it will be self-imposed.
- Conflict among districts for allocation of city resources.
- Lack of collaboration among Councilmembers, who will align with the goals and desires of their district’s constituents in order to win election.
- Increased antagonism among competing district residents, both within districts and among the several districts.
- Increased City non-governance costs due to challenges and lawsuits brought by aggrieved districts or their constituents who view themselves as negatively impacted by the competition among districts for power and advantage.
- Gerrymandering, or manipulation of district lines, to enlarge the voting power of communities already possessing greater power.
My opposition to the creation of voting districts for City Council elections has its origins in my family history. My parents were holocaust survivors who, in their mid-20s, were captured and imprisoned in Auschwitz, while their grandparents, parents, brothers, cousins, nephews, nieces, and other family members were killed. Prior to Hitler’s rise, most Jews were already living in separate districts (Jewish ghettos), both under legal fiat and by choice. Ultimately, these ghettos served as convenient targets for Hitler’s followers to deface and destroy Jewish-owned property and, as a final solution, to herd the Jewish population, including the aged and children, either into killing fields or onto cattle cars headed to labor/death camps.
What connection does this awful history have to the creation of district voting in Irvine, whose purpose is to give under-represented minorities a greater voice in elections? Regardless of the laudable intentions of California’s legislators, the current data regarding the effects of conversion to district voting in California’s cities are not conclusive. What seems likely to me, though, is that the creation of voting districts will enlarge divisions among communities as various racial, ethnic, religious, and other groups will migrate to districts where they will be surrounded by people of like backgrounds and cultures, resulting in de facto segregation. We cannot learn to accept differences, appreciate when someone is spreading lies about others, or live in harmony with our neighbors if we remain separate and ignorant of the humanity of others. Ironically, this self-segregation for the sake of increased voting rights will help realize late Alabama Governor George Wallace’s pledge of “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever.” There are other means available to foster equal rights. Separate but equal, whatever the motives, and whether imposed by others or adopted voluntarily, never has been and never will be a proper means to achieve true equality. “Segregation was wrong when it was forced by white people, and I believe it is still wrong when it is requested by black people.” (Coretta Scott King, cited in “The Last Word : A Treasury of Women’s Quotes” by Carolyn Warner, (p. 99), 1992.)
I challenge the City Council to publish this call for the citizens of Irvine to put down their distracting map-drawing tools for a time and engage in thoughtful consideration of the critical issue whether we will choose on March 4, 2024, to create a community consisting of competing insular ghettos or continue to work toward the integration of all people into a welcoming city.