Glendale Community College has commissioned a $35,000 study exploring the possibility of moving from an at-large process for electing trustees to a district system.
The decision comes six weeks after Cerritos Community College was sued by voters who claim its at-large structure violates the California Voting Rights Act by diluting the Latino vote.
“One of the reasons that you do a study like this is for self reflection, to determine whether or not you need to look at making a change in the way that your elections are held,” said Mary Dowell, legal counsel for Glendale Community College. “If you conclude that you do not need to make a change based on the study, then the study is very powerful evidence in your defense if an interest group sues you.”
In an at-large election, candidates can run and be elected, regardless of where they live. In a district-based system, candidates compete to represent specific geographic areas. The Glendale Community College study will focus on local voting patterns, something that can help determine the fairness of the current system.
Glendale Unified school board members — who, like Glendale Community College trustees, are elected in an at-large process —likely will vote next month on whether to piggy-back on the study and share costs, board President Joylene Wagner said.
“We want to know how, and if, our efforts can combine with the college’s,” Wagner said. “We certainly need to be prepared.”
During a presentation Nov. 1, representatives from the Community College League of California and the consulting firm Redistricting Partners told local education officials that the Cerritos Community College case is likely to be repeated elsewhere, making this an opportune time to consider a change.
In addition, a recently signed law gives community colleges the ability to make the switch to a district system within a specific timeframe without putting the issue before voters, avoiding a potentially costly and protracted approval process.
The voters who make up the Glendale Community College District include significant minority groups, including 17% Asians and 19% Latinos, Redistricting Partners consultant Paul Mitchell said.
“That data is derived from the census,” Mitchell said. “The Armenian population is not a part of the census, but it is a key population in Glendale. What we can do for the Armenian population — this has been done in other areas — is instead of looking at the census data, we look at a surname database based on registered voters to help serve as a proxy. It is not perfect but … it helps us glean some information.”
In some communities, ethnic groups are evenly distributed, but not so in Glendale, Mitchell said, adding that preliminary voting data analysis does indicate some racially polarized voting between minority and non-minority groups.
“You do see some pocketing of ethnic communities in Glendale, which is maybe something that creates a little red flag,” Mitchell said.
The study will analyze a dozen or more Glendale elections to determine if there is serious disparity between how ethnic groups vote and whether a minority group might be better served by the creation of districts.
“It could be argued that Latinos don’t seek election because they don’t really see Glendale as being a place where they can get elected, get endorsements from papers, get support from the political infrastructure, and other things that are the narrative of Glendale,” Mitchell said.
In case law that is developing around the state, the threshold for creating districts is whether there is a minimum minority demographic of 25.6%, Mitchell said.
“If I got through this process and I couldn’t create a 25% Latino seat, then I probably come to the conclusion that for the purposes of creating a remedy among Latinos, redistricting is not it,” Mitchell said.
The study is an opportunity to do the right thing, and examine what steps, if any, the college needs to take, trustees said.
“If we have to district, it is going to be a change,” Glendale Community College trustee Tony Tartaglia said. “We need to do the right thing for every one and make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”