By-District Elections Background

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Since the City of Folsom was incorporated in 1946, the city has elected its Councilmembers through an at-large election system. Under this system, registered Folsom voters elect the five City Councilmembers regardless of where the candidates reside in the city. Under by-district elections, the city is divided into five districts, and each voter within a district may cast one vote for a candidate residing within that district.

In February 2020, the city received a petition from the Folsom Area Democratic Club and numerous Folsom residents to begin the process to change City Council elections from at-large to by-district. In late October, the city received a letter from the petitioners’ attorney alleging that Folsom’s current at-large method of election may be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA), which is a prerequisite to filing a CVRA lawsuit.  On January 20, 2021, the City of Folsom was served with a CVRA lawsuit filed by the petitioners’ attorney representing Hari Shetty, Kavita Sood, and Neighborhood Elections Now.

Under the CVRA, public agencies can be sued when an at-large election system is alleged to have impaired the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of their choice or their ability to influence the outcome of an election. “Protected class” is defined in the CVRA as a class of voters who are members of a race, color, or language minority group.  Folsom is among hundreds of cities, special districts, and school districts throughout the state to receive such letters, which is a prerequisite under the CVRA prior to filing a lawsuit.

The transition to district elections has become increasingly common in the state and Sacramento County, including the cities of Citrus Heights, Elk Grove, and Roseville, and the Folsom Cordova Unified School District.

The legislature established a very low threshold for plaintiffs to win a CVRA lawsuit. To date, no public agency has successfully defended a legal challenge to remain in an at-large voting system. No proof of discriminatory intent or history of discrimination is necessary for a plaintiff to prevail. The costs to defend a CVRA challenge can be tremendously high, in some cases well into several millions of taxpayer dollars. If the city does not transition to a by-district election system and loses the lawsuit, the court is required to implement by-district elections and award attorney’s fees and litigation expenses to the plaintiff. Under the CVRA, the city has an opportunity to voluntarily transition to by-district elections and avoid a costly lawsuit.

While there has been no finding that the City of Folsom has violated the CVRA or any other law protecting Folsom residents’ rights to vote, the Folsom City Council, on January 12, 2021, conducted a public meeting to consider by-district elections. After hearing input and feedback from members of the public, the City Council continued the matter off calendar and directed a public information initiative to educate the community about the CVRA and the issue of by-district elections. 

The city launched a dedicated webpage with information about the CVRA and distributed informational mailers to all of Folsom’s 30,836 households. The city received 474 responses from residents:

  • 295 in favor of at-large elections
  • 154 in favor of by-district elections
  • 25 undecided

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued executive orders suspending deadlines related to the CVRA, effectively placing a hold on scheduled public meetings to start the districting process. With the lifting of those orders on July 1, 2021, the city will resume public meetings about its election system.

At its Tuesday, July 27, 2021 meeting, the Folsom City Council adopted a resolution of intent that starts the process to transition the city from at-large elections to by-district elections.

The process for establishing districts is controlled by federal and state laws, including data from the federal Census. The city is required to identify the number of districts, adopt a map, determine the election sequencing, and hold a minimum of five public hearings.