Yesterday’s hearing in Santa Clara’s voting rights lawsuit began where it left off on Wednesday: with demographer David Ely testifying. Ely was asked by plaintiff’s attorney Maurice Baller to make a hypothesis about what would have happened in the 2014 and 2016 City Council elections if they were by-district elections using Ely’s seven-district map.
The answer was that Council Candidates Kevin Park and Raj Chahal would very likely be on the Santa Clara City Council — leaving aside, of course, the fact that neither of them live in the Northside, where they got the most votes. The point was that it would be very likely that Santa Clara would have a more representative City Council today.
“A candidate who got that level of support would prevail in a district system,” Ely said.
Baller then asked Ely to discuss the Measure A two-by-three plan and how it might impact representation.
Ely testified that drawing Measure A’s line down the center of El Camino Real (ECR) “would result in a very white district south of that boundary.”
Further, he said, with multi-member districts candidates “would have to operate and organize in a very different kind of election.” And he could foresee more polarization, not less. Measure A’s south of ECR district combines very different communities of interest, he said, and the one with the most members could simply take all the seats — just as in a fully at-large system.
At one point Judge Thomas Kuhnle asked to have ranked choice voting/single transferable vote explained to him.
Santa Clara’s attorney Kevin Calia then cross-examined Ely, not by raising questions about Ely’s data, but seeking to call into question the demographer himself.
Ely didn’t attend the City’s charter review committee meeting — which appeared to be the City’s litmus test for authentically caring about voting rights. Did Ely know where Kevin Park lived?
Kathy Watanabe was an Asian-preferred candidate, would it be all right if she were elected in a Northside District? To this Ely replied that it wasn’t who was elected, what mattered was that the person elected be the choice of the minority voters.
Calia then asked Ely if he knew that the person who drove him around Santa Clara was the sister and daughter of Council Members? (Jeannie Mahan, whose sister, Patricia Mahan, current sits on the Council and whose late father John Mahan was on the Council in the 1970s.) Ely didn’t know.
Calia then asked if Ely knew that one his maps split a Latino community along ECR. Ely replied that all of Gobalet’s maps did the same thing.
This was followed by a discussion of smoothness of lines on maps and gerrymandering Although ECR may seem like a good boundary line — it appeals to the desire for straight lines — “a neighborhood isn’t just a street on a grid,” Ely said, adding that this was one of the factors that he placed as a higher priority on than did the City’s demographer, Jean Gobalet, so his lines were less smooth.
Gobalet then took the stand, attesting to her experience in the field and her independence from partisanship, saying “we don’t do partisan work but we know it when we see it.”
It was established that Gobalet had worked for the City since 2011, lived in Saratoga (Ely lives in San Gabriel) and had attended charter review committee and districting committee meetings.
In fact, Gobalet was so in touch with the community in the district design that, she said, that “Measure A was a plan designed by a community member, not me.” That community member is two-time charter review committee member and anecdotally-announced candidate for City Council Hosam Haggag.
Court was adjourned for the day after that, and no doubt the plaintiffs will have some questions for Gobalet Friday afternoon when the case continues.