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Here’s why Mission Viejo will only elect two council members in 2020

Mission Viejo is delaying its plan to implement cumulative voting until 2022, citing continued opposition from the office of the California Secretary of State, which says state law doesn’t allow it in the city.

Voters in November will cast a ballot for two seats, reelecting or replacing Mayor Brian Goodell and Councilwoman Trish Kelley who were elected in 2016. Terms for three council members – Wendy Bucknum, Greg Raths and Ed Sachs – will last until 2022.

When the three council members were elected in 2018, the city intended them to serve two-year terms so all five seats could be up for election through cumulative voting in 2020. In cumulative voting, citizens receive the same number of votes as seats in a race and can allocate them between candidates how they choose, including casting multiple votes for a single candidate.

Since Mission Viejo couldn’t make cumulative voting work this year, it was best to follow the city’s ordinance that defines council members’ terms as four years, said City Attorney Bill Curley. The council recently decided to put only two seats up for election in 2020.

“The council didn’t give itself two more years,” Curley said. “The council recognized what the law said.”

But some residents are criticizing the council’s recent decision, saying it effectively gave the three council members two more years in their term without public input. The council made its decision in a closed session, and a staff report on the November election didn’t indicate how many members are up for reelection. Before the meeting, the city did make public a resolution that stated two members of the council will be up for reelection.

“The explanation we got from the city is that we are not just understanding. I find that to be condescending,” resident Jill Schindler said. “They put a series of things in motion which means I no longer get to have a say in what happens in our city.”

Residents are planning a sit-in at 3 p.m. on Friday, July 3, at the City Hall to protest the council’s decision.

Mission Viejo has been trying to implement cumulative voting since the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project sued the city in 2018 to stop it from using the at-large model, where all voters choose from the slate of candidates for the open council seats. The nonprofit voting rights group has said the at-large model dilutes the voice of the city’s Latinos, who make up about a fifth of Mission Viejo’s overall population.

The voting rights group has typically sought cities to elect representatives by geographic districts. But it’s not feasible to draw a district that is predominantly Hispanic because the population is evenly spread throughout the city, Kelley said in an e-mail statement. The city’s residents had also expressed their opposition to district-based voting, she said. Given those factors, officials from Mission Viejo and the group have both said cumulative voting is the best way to increase the representation of the city’s Latino voices.

Mission Viejo officials until recently were hopeful they could hold the 2020 election through cumulative voting, Curley said. He cited state law, which said “appropriate remedies, including the imposition of district-based elections, that are tailored to remedy the violation” can be implemented to address the concerns about the dilution of minority voices in elections.

But the Secretary of State’s office has said general law cities such as Mission Viejo, which must follow the state’s Elections Code, can’t hold cumulative voting.

“It is UP TO THE LEGISLATURE to authorize any alternative voting system(s) and that the creation of “voting protocols” are insufficient under current state law,” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in his May 1 letter to Mayor Brian Goodell. “The Secretary of State’s office DISAGREES with the City Attorney’s claim that cumulative voting is currently authorized under state law.”

Curley said city officials in 2018 intended to have the three council members serve a two-year term only because they thought cumulative voting would be implemented by 2020. But with the Secretary of State holding firm that Mission Viejo can hold cumulative voting only if the state Legislature passes a law explicitly allowing it, the city had no choice but to delay its plan until 2022, he said.

Schindler said the city should have honored what it said in 2018 and put all five members up for reelection in 2020.

“In 2018, on the ballot, there was a whole group of people listed for a two-year term, so we voted,” she said. “They’re now saying three of them are not up for reelection until 2022 and that bothers me.”

The city should draw districts for council seats and move on, she said. “The fact they didn’t want to do that is not an excuse for overriding the rule of the people.”

Goodell said the council didn’t consider that possibility. “That would probably require another change that doesn’t do anything. There’s no reason to do that.”

He said he believes it’s best to stay with the status quo and the city’s ordinance until cumulative voting can be implemented.

Since the city’s plan for cumulative voting came as part of a settlement agreement with the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, Curley said a judge has to approve the city’s proposal for the November election.

If the court approves the proposal, voters will choose two council members in November. If cumulative voting is implemented by 2022, all five council seats will be up for reelection in 2022. But if the city transitions to district-based voting, the two seats filled in 2020 will not be up for reelection until 2024, officials said.

Source: Orange County Register

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