Last year, Assembly Bill 1440 (“AB 1440”) was signed into law and took effect January 1, 2015. According to the author of AB 1440, this new law will require that school districts and community college districts hold at least two open and public hearings prior to the public hearing to adopt a new trustee voting area plan associated with a transition to a by-trustee area election system. It is important to note that this new law applies whether or not the transition to a by-trustee area election system is initiated by the district or required by court order.
Since the enactment of the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”), hundreds of local government bodies (cities, school districts, community college districts and water districts) have approved moving from an at-large election system (voters of entire jurisdiction elect all governing board members) to a by-trustee area election system (district is divided into trustee areas and a governing board member is elected from each trustee area by only the registered voters in the particular trustee area where the governing board member resides) in order to ensure compliance with the CVRA.
The CVRA provides that an at-large election system cannot be applied in a way that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election. A violation of the CVRA is established if it can be shown that “racially polarized voting” has occurred. Due to the broad language of the CVRA and the fact the CVRA provides that a successful plaintiff is entitled to receipt of attorneys’ fees, many jurisdictions have transitioned to a by-trustee area election system, the only accepted safe harbor under the CVRA, rather than risk exposure to significant legal costs, which can rise into the millions.
With this new law, it is important for districts to factor in the timing necessary to allow for two properly noticed public hearings to be held before holding a hearing to approve a final trustee voting area map. When developing a timeline for the steps required to complete the transition to a by-trustee area election system, districts should also make sure they are aware of any deadlines imposed with the local county registrar of voters so that the transition can be accomplished for an upcoming election.
Moreover, this new law requires that a district hold at least one public hearing on any proposal to adjust the boundaries of established trustee voting areas prior to the hearing to adopt any recommended changes. (Note: Under Education Code section 5019.5(a), a school district or community college district is required to update the boundaries of trustee areas following each decennial federal census, if necessary, to ensure compliance with state and federal law, including making sure the population of each trustee area is as equal as possible.)
Our firm has assisted a number of districts in evaluating requirements under the CVRA and completing a transition to a by-trustee area election system. If you have any questions regarding the CVRA or transitioning to a new election system, please call one of our six offices.
F3 NewsFlash prepared by Peter K. Fagen, Gregory Rodriguez, Milton E.
Foster III and John W. Norlin.
Peter is a Partner in the F3 San Diego office.
Greg is an Associate in the F3 San Diego office.
Milton is an Associate in the F3 Inland Empire office.
John is Special Counsel in the F3 San Diego office.
This F3 NewsFlash is a summary only and not legal advice. We recommend that you consult with legal counsel to determine how this legal development may apply to your specific facts and circumstances. Information on a free NewsFlash subscription can be found at www.f3law.com.
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