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Judge in Voting Rights Lawsuit Orders Six Districts for Santa Clara, But Election Sequencing Not Decided

Santa Clara will have six election districts and will use the City’s Draft Plan 3, dawn by the City’s demographer Jean Gobalet. The office of the City’s mayor will continue to be elected at-large.

Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle published his order Monday morning — which is also the deadline for the City to provide the necessary geographic information (GIS), assessor parcel numbers and addresses to the Registrar of Voters.

Kuhnle’s decision is in keeping with precedent in California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) court decisions in the nearly two decades the law has been in effect.

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Today’s order doesn’t include election sequencing for the new districts, which Kuhnle wrote that he will give “shortly” and left open the possibility that one sitting Council Member’s term will be truncated.

“The parties believe they can agree on a sequencing plan for the elections in 2018,” he wrote. “Very shortly the Court will prepare and file a final Amended Statement of Decision and Judgment that will address this issue. What is certain right now is that in November 2018 City residents will cast votes for a mayor and either two or three council members.”

“The decision in this case represents a victory for democracy and fair representation,” said attorney Richard Konda of the Asian Law Alliance, part of the legal team representing the plaintiffs in the case. “Asian Americans and Latinos residing in Santa Clara will be able to elect candidates of their choice under the new district based system.”

The City is complying with the order, but reluctantly, judging by a press release that went out Monday afternoon calling it a “confusing situation.”

The City described the order as ” in conflict with the City’s Charter in that it orders the City to implement by-district elections for its six council members,” but “reaffirms the Santa Clara Charter provision that the City elects its Mayor on a City-wide basis.”

The release also reiterates an argument adopted by the failed Measure A’s proponents after voters rejected that two-district/three at-large seats plan.

“This will mean that only a portion of voters who live in Santa Clara will be able to elect council members in November 2018,” said the release, “whereas prior to the court’s order, all voters could vote for all of the council members.”

This is also true of Measure A.

“Throughout this litigation the City’s priority has been to keep the voters and potential candidates informed about City elections,” said Santa Clara Mayor Lisa Gillmor in the City’s press release. “The City will continue to comply with the Judge’s order so far as it is able to, given that it is only partial direction. The City will further analyze this confusing situation as it determines how to proceed.”

The release said that the City has transmitted the required information to the Registrar of Voters, but concludes, “Although the decision states that the court will provide this [sequencing] direction ‘shortly,’ at this point the City Clerk will not be able to provide this information to potential candidates seeking to run for Council Office or the voters.

Click the image above to view an enlarged image of the districting map. Read the Judge’s order here.

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