The completion of the 2020 Census means political boundaries will be changing everywhere – including the four Ceres City Council districts that were carved six years ago.
Redistricting must be done in accordance with strict state and federal guidelines so the Ceres City Council on Monday hired National Demographics Corporation of Glendale to determine if and where the new district boundary lines will be drawn. The contract is expected to cost the taxpayers $26,500.
National Demographics Corporation is well known for helping local governments draw district lines and redraw them after population updates, and has a reputation as the leading demographic expert on the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The firm has helped the cities of Modesto, Anaheim, Compton, Escondido, Santa Clarita and Whittier in lawsuits related to district boundaries.
Under the Fair Maps Act, by April 17, 2022, the city must redistrict council district boundaries so that each of the four districts is substantially equal in population. Districts must be drawn to comply with the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the federal and state Voting Rights acts.
Public hearings and outreach are required but when the city created council districts in 2015 there was little public attendance at two public hearings. Leading them was Doug Johnson, president of the National Demographics Corporation, who explained why Ceres and other cities and school districts were forced to abandon at-large methods of selecting council members. He noted that the state has a poorly-written Voting Rights Act that sets up cities for multi-million dollar lawsuits if they didn’t switch over to district elections regardless if there is no evidence of voting polarity.
Ceres voters approved the district election concept on Nov. 3, 2015. Had voters rejected any change, the City Council still would have had to acquiesce to the 2002 California Voting Rights Act or face a legal challenge from minority advocate groups and the potential loss of millions of dollars fighting the change.
Minority groups like the Latino Community Roundtable feel that district elections make it easier for minority candidates to be elected to office, stating that concentrations of minority voters could be outnumbered in at-large districts controlled by non-minority voters.
The first Ceres City Council district election was in 2017 when two council seats were open. The first full district election took place in 2019.
Modesto was forced to go to district elections years ago after waging a legal fight that cost taxpayers an estimated $2 million in attorney’s fees.
The district lines are not expected to change very much given that Ceres’ population increased by only 3,621 residents between the 2010 and 2020 Census, from 45,417 to 49,038.
The new council districts will be drawn long after the Aug. 31 special election to choose a new councilmember for District 1. The seat has been vacant since January when Channce Condit resigned midway into his term to become a county supervisor.
James Casey, Laurie Smith and Connie Vasquez are vying to fill the seat. An all-mail special election will be held on Tuesday, Aug. 31 for District 1 residents only. The winner will be seated at the Monday, Sept. 13 council meeting.
The only time in recent Ceres history when a special election was held for a vacant Ceres council seat occurred in November 1976 when voters elected Jim Delhart over five other candidates to replace Steve Wright. Wright had resigned in July 1976 to pursue a career as a police officer. It is unclear if state law at the time allowed councils to fill a vacancy by appointment.