Kevin Shenkman Served Irvine With a Letter. Will District Elections Be Coming to Irvine?

There is a fight going on nationwide between those who want increased democracy with increased access to voting for all qualifying populations and those who would prefer if minorities’ rights to vote embedded in the hard won amendments to the constitution were effectively and efficiently revoked. 

What does this have to do with Irvine?

Irvine holds at-large elections. These are elections where everyone in Irvine, regardless of neighborhood or zip code, gets to vote for all members of the City Council. This is in contrast to what would occur if we had district elections. 

In a district election, Irvine would have representatives on the city council from each district with each district being eligible to vote only for its representatives on the City Council, the same way we vote for our IUSD School Board Members.

Why does this matter? 

The type of election matters because the result would often be different. For example, if there is an area with a large Pacific Islander population in a city, they would have a greater chance of getting representation on the City Council with district elections. If Pacific Islanders were not the majority population of the city, then they would unlikely get representation in an at-large election and instead whatever the majority population of the city was would be able to gain a monopoly on representation.

District elections are seen to allow for more minority representation at the municipal level. The result of at-large elections can result in a council that lacks the diversity of its own city and would be unlikely to fully represent the interests of their own constituents.

What law is being broken exactly? 

The California Voter Rights Act. Existing law, the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA), prohibits the use of an at-large election in a political subdivision if it would impair the ability of a protected class, as defined, to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election. 

Still not convinced Irvine will need to change its elections?

According to Eric Dunn, an attorney for the City of Hesperia, no local government that holds citywide elections has ever won a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, according to the League of California Cities. LA Times | Willon

Meet Attorney, Kevin Shenkman

 “For the past several years, Shenkman, who lives and practices law in Malibu, has been suing, or threatening to sue, cities all over Southern California, demanding they change the way they elect members of their city councils in order to increase the numbers of African-American and Latino representatives.” LA Times | Abcarian

“In Orange County alone Shenkman has played a central role in forcing district-based elections or ballot measures for the election in November, in city councils and school boards in several jurisdictions. They include school boards and city councils in Buena Park, Costa Mesa, Garden Grove and San Juan Capistrano.” Voice of OC | Vo

City of Irvine received a letter from Kevin Shenkman

At this Tuesday’s closed session, agenda item 1.2 will discuss the letter received by attorney Kevin Shenkman, who is known for suing cities throughout the state prompting cities to switch to district elections. The Shenkman letter states,

“Given the racially polarized elections for Irvine’s city council and exogenous elections, we urge the City to voluntarily change its at-large system of electing its City Council. Otherwise, on behalf of residents within the jurisdiction, we will be forced to seek judicial relief. Please advise us no later than April 25, 2021 as to whether you would like to discuss a voluntary change to your current at-large system. We look forward to your response. Very truly yours, Kevin I. Shenkman”.

Click to access shenkman.pdf

So, what do we do now? 

Leave your thoughts as a public comment for closed session item 1.2 here. Zoom comments will not be accepted since it is a closed session item UNLESS you wait for the time slot allotted to public comments on items NOT on the agenda at the very end of the meeting.