Frequently Asked Questions

What's the difference between district-based elections and at-large elections?

In a district-based election, a city is divided into geographic sections (districts) and voters are represented by a candidate who resides within their district. In this system, citizens cannot vote for candidates outside of their own district. In an at-large system, all voters in the city choose from the same list of candidates regardless of their residential location. Councilmembers represent the entire city in an at-large system.

Why is the Council exploring moving to District-Based elections?

On September 14, 2018, the City received a notice of violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) from Malibu attorney Kevin Shenkman. Shenkman asserts that the current at-large elections system facilitates racially polarized voting in Vallejo. To date, no city has been successful in defending a CVRA allegation. For more details, see "What has happened to other cities facing a CVRA allegation?" below. It is estimated that this lawsuit would cost Vallejo several millions of dollars in legal fees if it fails to adopt a resolution to transition to a district-based system.

In response to the threat of lawsuit, the City of Vallejo contacted Shenkman and entered an agreement to extend the period of time in which the city can assess the transition, known as a "Safe Harbor" period. In 2016, the Governor signed AB 350 into law, legislature that provides a 45 day "Safe Harbor" period from CVRA litigation. The purpose of this "Safe Harbor" period is to give cities an adequate opportunity to evaluate their situation. The legislation requires a city to undertake a number of steps to assess and transition into a district-based election system, including five public hearings (see timeline below). Under this legislation, cities receive 90 days of protection from litigation if they adopt a resolution of intent to transition to district-based elections, outline specific steps to be undertaken, and create an estimated time frame of action before or within 45 days of receiving a CVRA notice letter. By agreement, the City's "Safe Harbor" deadline to adopt an ordinance to transition to district-based elections has been extended to April 30, 2019. If an ordinance is not adopted at that time, the City will be subject to litigation from the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, represented by Shenkman.

April 8, 2019 from 5-6:30 pm John F. Kennedy Library. Workshop to learn how to make a compliant district map.
April 23, 2019 by 5:15 pm Deadline to submit any and all proposed maps no later than 5:15 pm. Maps can be dropped off at the City Clerk's Office or emailed to [email protected].
April 30, 2019 City staff will publish all maps to be considered by Council at Public Hearing #3.
May 14, 2019 at 7:00 pm City Council meeting at City Hall to hear public input on drawing district maps.
June 18, 2019 at 6:00 pm Public Hearing #4 City Council meeting at City Hall to hear public input on drawing district maps.
July 9, 2019 at 7:00 pm Introduction of Ordinance City Council meeting at City Hall to select a district map and introduction of an ordinance to transition to district based City Council elections.
July 23, 2019 at 7:00 pm City Council meeting at City Hall for possible Adoption of Ordinance.

Does this allegation mean that the City of Vallejo has been purposely disenfranchising voters?

An allegation that the City has violated the California Voting Rights Act does not imply that the City is acting in a discriminatory manner. Rather, it is an assertion that the overall electoral system within the city caused the disenfranchisement of minority voters. The aim of district-based elections is to give all legitimate communities, including minorities groups, a better chance of being fairly represented by their city council.

What are the Federal and California Voting Rights Acts?

The Federal Voting Rights Act (FVRA) of 1965 was implemented to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented minority groups from exercising their right to vote as promised under the 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. It protects the rights of all citizens to participate in the voting process. The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was passed in 2001 based on the legislature's finding that minorities and other members of protected classes were being denied the opportunity to have representation of their choosing at the local level. The system of at-large elections caused a number of issues that are associated with denial of representation. If a violation of the CVRA is found, the act stipulates that, "the court shall implement appropriate remedies, including the imposition of district-based elections that are tailored to remedy the violation."
Read about the FVRA and the CVRA.

What has happened to other cities facing a CVRA allegation?

As of now, no city has been successful in defending against a CVRA allegation. Other cities and districts that have been sued were ordered to pay significant settlements. A few examples include:

  • Palmdale: $4.5 million
  • Modesto: $3 million
  • Anaheim: $1.1 million
  • Whittier: $1 million
  • Santa Barbara: $600,000
  • Tulare Regional Medical Center: $500,000
  • Escondido: $385,000
  • ABC Unified: $140,000

Why not put this issue on the ballot for voters to decide?

Given the threat of litigation, and the "Safe Harbor" provision that tolls the litigation threat until July 2019, the city must decide whether to move to district based elections before that date. That is insufficient time to send the matter to the voters. Should the city council decide to send the matter to the voters at the next general election, the city would be operating outside of the "SafeHarbor" provisions, and be subject to litigation. Thus, Vallejo would be forced to eradicate the at-large elections system if it allows voters to decide whether or not to switch to district elections. Even if the voters ultimately oppose switching to district elections, the city would remain vulnerable to accusations that the election resulted in polarized-voting in violation of the CVRA. Rather than face further allegations of violating the CVRA, the City Council must decide whether to follow the procedures under Elections Code Section 10010 or to defend its at-large election system in court.

How will the City involve the entire community in the public process and keep them involved? How will the City ensure people affected, i.e. people of color, have opportunity to speak and be involved beyond just public comment?

In accordance with the California Voting Rights Act, City Council will hold multiple meetings over a period of no more than 90 days in order to make a final decision [see our timeline above].

These hearings present the public with the opportunity to speak to the Council about how the new electoral districts should be formed. In addition, the public may submit paper maps of proposed districts for the council and the demographics team for consideration. There are three ways to submit a map: send via paper mail to the city clerk, drop off in person to the city clerk's office, or via email to [email protected]. Please note that the deadline to submit a map is April 23, 2019 at 5:15 PM. The City will continue to post new information on its website to ensure the public has the opportunity to be involved in this process. Finally, the City will be partnering with community organizations to spread the word throughout the community.

What redistricting principles are used?

  • Include communities of interest
  • Be compact and contiguous
  • Have visible (natural and man-made) boundaries

What are "Communities of Interest"?

Communities of interest benefit from being in the same district because of shared interest, views, or characteristics. A "community of interest" is defined by the supreme court as, "[A] geographic area comprised of residents who share similar interests including, but not limited to, social, cultural, ethnic, geographic or economic interests, or formal government or quasi-governmental relationships, but not including relationships with political parties, incumbents, or candidates".

Possible community features include:

  • Common civic and social networks such as places of worship, community centers, neighborhood organizations, and shared use of community spaces, like parks.
  • Visible natural and man-made features, street lines and/or City boundary lines.
  • Shared interests in transit, environmental conditions, housing, schools, land use, etc.
  • Similar socio-economic status, including but not limited to education levels, income, and home ownership.

If the City changes to districts for the 2020 elections, could the map change after the 2020 census?

Yes. If implemented, the district map would be evaluated every 10 years when new census data is made available. Election Code § 21620 states, "After the initial establishment of the districts, the districts shall continue to be as nearly equal in population as may be according to the latest federal decennial census or, if authorized by the charter of the city, according to the federal mid-decade census."

What will happen to the remaining councilmembers' seats?

Each elected councilmember will serve the remainder of their term. The terms will not be affected by a shift in the elections system.

Do maps have to use census blocks as boundaries for districts?

Yes; district maps that use census blocks as boundaries for their districts will be considered. Maps that do not follow this guideline cannot be considered.

What are the pros and cons of district-based elections?


  • Each geographic area of the city is represented
  • Each voter has a specific Council member to contact for assistance
  • Minority candidates (racial or political) have a better opportunity to be elected
  • Viewpoints that might not be citywide can be represented
  • Voter's choice is simplified with less candidates to learn about
  • It will likely cost less to run for City Council since citywide campaigning is not required


  • Council members may represent only the interests of their districts, not the whole city
  • Not all voters may be voting each election, reducing overall turnout
  • Candidates may be elected with few votes
  • The best qualified candidates may be concentrated in one district
  • District lines have to be reviewed and possibly redrawn after each census and significant annexation
  • Council members may have divergent views, may conflict with each other
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