The City of Novato is engaged in a process to change the way that City Councilmembers are elected by transitioning to a district-based election system. Currently, all five Councilmembers, including the Mayor, are elected at-large, meaning that all registered voters who reside in Novato have the opportunity to vote for all five City Council positions.
District-Based Election System
A district-based election system would divide the City into geographic districts. Councilmembers will be required to live in the district that they represent and will be elected only by registered voters of that district.
Why transition to district elections?
In 2002, the Legislature enacted the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) (Elec. Code §§14025 – 14032), which prohibits California public agencies, including municipal governments, from imposing or applying an at-large election method "that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election" (Elec. Code §14027). A protected class is defined by the CVRA as "a class of voters who are members of a race, color, or language minority group, as this class is referenced and defined in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965".
In a lawsuit brought pursuant to the CVRA, a plaintiff who establishes a history of a "racially polarized voting" under a city's at-large election system can require the city to change to a district-based election system and pay for his or her attorneys' fees. In February 2019, the City received a letter from an attorney, alleging racially-polarized voting in Novato. Pursuant to California Elections Code section 10010, a city can avoid even the filing of a lawsuit if, within 45 days of receiving a demand letter, it adopts a resolution of intention to move to district-based elections and, within 90 days thereafter, it adopts a district map for use in future elections. Although the City in no way concedes the allegations in the demand letter, and in order to avoid the high cost and burden of needless litigation, on March 12, 2019, the City Council adopted a resolution outlining its intention to transition from at-large to district-based elections , which includes specific steps the City will undertake to facilitate the transition, and an estimated timeframe for doing so. The Elections Code provides that, in order to avoid the filing of a lawsuit and to cap possible attorneys' fees, the City has 90 days to adopt an ordinance providing for district-based elections.