As California cities challenged over old ways of voting in leaders make the switch to district-based elections, Irvine leaders are split on whether a change would be best for the city’s voters and if it should appear on a future ballot.

District-based elections have become a common alternative for cities and school and special districts up and down the state that have been confronted, and even sued, over their more traditional at-large voting systems.

A system that allows voters to cast ballots for as many candidates as there are open seats, at-large voting has been criticized by groups arguing that it can dilute the voice of minority residents. By carving up voters into smaller geographic districts, minority residents might have more success electing representatives from their community, the argument goes.

Saying residents have “expressed an interest in discussing these electoral system changes,” a couple council members put the discussion on Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

A switch to district-based elections could lead to better representation of the various villages in Irvine, some of which have never had a resident as a council member, Councilman Larry Agran said, adding it could also eliminate possible acrimony on the council after tough fought campaigns.

He said he wanted the city to “voluntarily move in this direction” if that’s what residents want, and that voters should decide with a ballot measure this year.

But Councilwoman Tammy Kim argued diverse representation on the council isn’t an issue in Irvine, and there is “absolutely no evidence or no data” the city has racially polarized voting that would justify moving to by-district elections.

Irvine is “not only diverse, but we’re thoroughly integrated,” Kim said. “And there is no way for us to even carve out a district (in accordance with the California Voting Rights Act) that would achieve equity.”

Noting the city previously received a letter from an attorney challenging the Irvine’s at-large voting system, to which city officials responded and haven’t heard back, council members said they wanted to discuss the legal implications before considering a ballot measure further and they would talk with the city’s attorney in a closed session.

During Tuesday’s discussion, city leaders also explored the possibility of expanding the City Council from five members to seven. No decision was made.

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