Three seats on the Cosumnes Community Services District (CSD) board are up for election next year, and the board must decide who among nearly 190,000 Elk Grove, Galt and Franklin residents will get to vote for which seat.
The board this February approved a major reform to their elections that will go into effect in November 2020. From then on, voters will only get to choose candidates running in their local “voting districts.” Voters previously voted on the same candidates, regardless of where they lived in the CSD’s service area.
The CSD board governs Elk Grove’s parks and recreation system, as well as the Cosumnes Fire Department that serves a 157-square-mile area that includes Elk Grove and Galt.
Challenges arose during the board’s Aug. 7 meeting when the board reviewed three proposed maps of five voting districts. They did not select a map for the November 2020 election that night.
The maps were drafted by the Sacramento firm, Redistricting Partners.
The proposed district boundaries were drawn so that the districts would have roughly even populations of voters.
However, some of the districts created situations such as a case where Elk Grove’s Stonelake neighborhood would be placed into a large voting district that includes Galt.
Director Jaclyn Moreno said that Stonelake is not a rural community and does not have ties with Galt and a few rural communities that lie in District 5.
In one map, Elk Grove’s highly populated East Franklin area is split up into three voting districts.
Director Rod Brewer imagined a complication for voters in East Franklin.
“(They could say) ‘We all want to vote for Rod, but we can’t do it now because we’re separated into three districts,’” he said.
Jacob Fisher, the chief technical officer of Redistricting Partners, told the CSD board that his staff will return with changed district maps that are based on board feedback.
“These are intended as starting points,” he said about the first round of district maps.
The CSD board’s next public hearing on the voting districts will be held on Aug. 21.
The 2010 Census challenge
Brewer, Moreno and Director v“by-district” election system during the 2018 election, and they had enough board votes to approve this reform in February.
Advocates argued that the CSD board’s previous “at large” system favored candidates who had large budgets and enough resources to effectively campaign in Elk Grove and Galt.
They believe that the new “by-district” elections will encourage more candidates of diverse backgrounds to run in CSD elections since campaigns can be smaller and more affordable.
Since voting districts must be based on Census counts, then the voting districts in the November 2020 election will be based on populations counted in the 2010 census.
Elk Grove and Galt significantly grew in the past nine years. The 2010 census counted 153,000 residents living in Elk Grove. There are now more than 170,000 residents there. Large Elk Grove residential communities like Laguna Ridge and Madeira were also built in the past decade.
During the CSD board’s Aug. 7 meeting, questions were raised about the proposed voting districts that use old population data.
“Are you comfortable with the accuracy of that data, based on 9-year-old information?”
CSD Board President Gil Albiani asked Fisher.
The consultant emphasized they are legally restricted to using 2010 census data to draft the election maps.
Meeting attendee Randy Bekker, an outspoken opponent of having “by-district” elections in 2020, said that his “worst nightmare” came true.
“We’re scrambling a map based on a population that doesn’t exist,” he said about the old census data.
Bekker advised the CSD board to instead draw their voting districts based on the Elk Grove City Council’s four voting districts and include a fifth district to include the communities outside Elk Grove. He also said they could move the first “by-district” election to 2022 when the 2020 census data is available.
Fisher told the CSD board that the 2020 census is expected to be released in 2021. Afterward, the CSD board must redraw their election maps to fit that new information before the 2022 election.
Fuentes stressed that the CSD board needed to adopt by-district elections in order to follow the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. Fisher said that act is intended to encourage by-district elections to “ensure that elected officials were elected by and for the communities they represent.”
Fuentes stood by the decision to start the CSD board’s new election system in 2020.
“Some might feel we’re premature,” he said about by-district elections. “It’s not premature; it’s that we’re long overdue.”