Gone are the days when a candidate’s home address was irrelevant when running for City Council in Ceres. If any council seat was open, any registered voter could declare their candidacy and run at-large. Now prospective candidates must consult a map of a diced-up city to determine what council district they live in before pondering a jump into city politics.
This is the first year in the history of Ceres that voters will be electing councilmembers on the basis of districts rather than the entire city limits. That means only persons living in Council Districts 1 and 2 may run for City Council on Nov. 6 this year; the remainder must wait for their district seat to come open for a run.
District 1 is currently occupied by Ken Lane who has stated he will not seek re-election.
District 2 is occupied by Linda Ryno.
The council candidate nomination period opens on July 16 and ends on Friday, Aug. 10. During this period, prospective candidates may take out, circulate and file nomination papers. If an incumbent for one of the offices does not file by August 10, the filing period will be extended until August 15. Prospective candidates are encouraged to schedule a meeting with the City Clerk to obtain nomination papers and other election-related materials.
The Ceres City Council allowed Ceres voters to decide on district elections in fear of an expensive legal challenge to at-large elections which have typically been filed by minority advocate groups. City leaders were not especially receptive to the idea of council districts but agreed to the 2015 measure. Voters approved the measure by a margin of 1,079 votes (66.28 percent) to 549 votes (33.72 percent).
The change came about because representatives of the Latino Community Roundtable (LCR) approached the council in 2013 asking the city to move to district elections, citing how Modesto fought a similar change and spent $2 million in legal fees doing so. The LCR said it was not interested in suing Ceres to make the change but cited how a group named the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights forced the Ceres Unified School District to adopt district elections in 2009 after threats of being sued under the California Voting Rights Act. The nonprofit advocacy group had filed a lawsuit on behalf of Latino voters, charging that the district’s at-large method of election was racially polarizing and violated the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
Minority groups in California have long argued that district elections make it easier for minority candidates to be elected, stating that concentrations of minority voters could be outnumbered in at-large districts controlled by non-minority voters. It’s uncertain how district elections will affect politics in Ceres but it’s possible that some races could become crowded while others go unchallenged. But because districts contain roughly 75 percent fewer voters than the entire city limits includes, there is less outreach and campaigns could be considerably less expensive.
Only the office of mayor will continue to be elected on an at-large basis. That seat is up for grabs in 2020.
Mayor Chris Vierra has been critical of district elections, noting that it’s possible now that wit low voter turn-out, 400 to 500 voters could elect a person making decisions for 47,000 residents.
District #1 consists mostly of the northwest section of Ceres west of Moffet Road. The district includes everything north of Evans Road, everything north of Caswell Avenue and a finger that reaches down to Whitmore Avenue to take in Mary Avenue.
District #2 mostly occupies newer areas west of Highway 99 with a small portion of the established area east of the freeway near Ceres High School, sandwiched between Evans Road to the north, Whitmore Avenue to the south with zip-zigs along Central Avenue and Sequoia Street to Fifth Street. The area was carved to include the residence of incumbent Linda Ryno when the first-ever map was carved out in 2015.
District 3 and 4 seats will be open in 2020.
District 3, now occupied by Bret Durossette, covers northeast Ceres, including areas east of Moffet Road as well as Eastgate.
District 4, now occupied by Mike Kline, covers a block around Smyrna Park southward to Highway 99 and leaping across the freeway to take some areas of southwest Ceres, including Marazzi Lane, Sungate Drive and Daisy Tree.
The change to district elections comes at a time when another state law mandates that municipal elections be timed with gubernatorial and/or presidential elections to boost voter turnout.
SB 415, signed into law in 2015 by Gov. Jerry Brown, is designed to get municipal elections away from “off year” election cycles, or elections that don’t include elections for governor or president. State lawmakers felt that many voters won’t turn out to vote if only local races are on the ballot so they now require cities to change when elections are held.
SB 415 specifically dictates that cities cannot hold an election in an off-year if the historical trend of voter turnout is more than 25 percent less than major election years. Data backs the state’s claim that voter turnout can be extremely low in off-year elections. In November 2015, for example, voter turnout in Ceres was at a dismal 15.93 percent but it more than doubled to 33.92 percent in November 2014 when Californians voted for statewide offices. During the presidential election of 2008, voter turnout in Ceres was 64.62 percent. Average voter turnout in recent past statewide elections (including two presidential elections) was 51 percent in Ceres. However, Ceres voter turnout over the past municipal elections held in an “off” years averaged 17 percent. That fact placed Ceres directly under the dictates of SB 214.
Voter participation in lower level elections could increase by 25 to 36 percent under the new direction, concluded a study by the Public Policy Institute of California.