With Irvine leaders split on the idea of having district-based voting in the city, the question of whether to make the switch in 2024 won’t be put up to the voters this year, the majority of council members decided recently.
As cities and special districts up and down the state are challenged — and even sued — over their old ways of voting in elected officials, many have moved to by-district elections as an alternative.
At-large voting has been criticized by groups that say it can dilute the voice of minority residents, and districts have been touted as a method that could provide better representation for minority groups.
At-large voting lets residents cast ballots for as many candidates as there are open seats. A by-district method splits residents into several voting areas, and they cast one ballot for a candidate out of their district to represent them.
In Irvine, council members have been split on whether they think district voting would be best for the city or if the issue should be put to voters.
A narrow majority last week decided against placing a measure asking residents to amend the city’s charter to expand the council by two seats and elect candidates by districts on the ballot this year.
Councilwoman Tammy Kim — who, along with members Anthony Kuo and Mike Carroll, opposed the ballot measure — said Irvine does not have a problem with electing minority representation. When city officials were sent a letter last year from an attorney challenging the at-large method, Kim said they pushed back, arguing that switching to district-based voting would not achieve equity.
City officials haven’t received a response from the attorney, she said in an interview Thursday.
Switching to districts, Kim said, would actually “produce the opposite effect” in Irvine “because communities such as the African American community, or the Hispanic community, would not be able to coalesce votes throughout the city.”
But Councilman Larry Agran has said the by-district method could lead to better representation throughout the many villages that Irvine is comprised of, some of which have never seen a resident elected to the council. The by-district method isn’t “just about matters of race,” he said at last week’s meeting, but “about matters of better representation as well.”
The district-based method “has been generally regarded as a very successful improvement in our voting system, particularly for cities like our own,” Agran said during the meeting, adding that Irvine’s growing numbers are “to the point where at-large elections can result in the anomalous situation where two or three people live in one part of town, and another two or three live in another part of town and whole areas of the city don’t have that kind of more local connection and representation.”
Still, Agran predicted the city will switch to district elections at some point.
“I think whether it’s by court order, or by just a vote of the people,” he said. “In my view, it’s better done sooner rather than later.”
Some other Orange County cities, like Mission Viejo and Tustin, will test out the voting method for the first time in November.
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