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Morgan Hill
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September 27, 2022

By-district elections: City creates new website, schedules July 10 workshop

City officials posted a new website containing interactive maps, meeting and workshop schedules and information devoted to the upcoming switch to a by-district election system for electing city council members.

The website, found at drawmh.org, allows residents and voters to participate in the effort to create four council districts within the city limits. The section titled “Draw a Map” allows voters to propose their own preferred district boundaries that reflect the area or areas they think should be represented by a single elected official.

An “Interactive Map Viewer” features layers of data such as the boundaries of individual U.S. Census population units within the city limits, and the number of residents within each unit. Draft maps, to be created in the coming weeks with input gathered from the public and a professional demographer, will be posted to the website.

The site, which can be viewed in English and Spanish, also gives voters instructions on how to draw a proposed district map—on paper or electronically—and submit it to city officials.

“The primary goal when drawing council election districts is to draw lines that keep neighborhoods together. So the council wants to know: what do you consider the boundaries of your neighborhood?” reads the “Welcome” section of the website.

The next chance for voters to interact in person with city officials regarding the effort to draw new council districts will be at a July 10 community workshop, from 7 to 9 p.m. at City Council meeting chambers, 17555 Peak Ave.

Under the by-district election system, each district will be represented by a single council member who resides within that district. Voters within each district will elect only one council member to represent them.

This is a stark change from the at-large system that has elected council members for the last 100-plus years. Under that system, all voters throughout Morgan Hill could vote on every council seat that was up for election, regardless of where in the city each candidate lived.

The council voted June 7 to make the change to a by-district system, in response to a “demand letter” from an Oakland law firm denouncing the at-large system as being in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. By adopting the change, the council is taking advantage of legal protections that limit the damages and costs that can be claimed in a potential civil rights lawsuit.

The by-district system will start November 2018, when two seats—currently occupied by Councilman Rich Constantine and Councilwoman Caitlin Jachimowicz—will be up for grabs. The other two seats—now held by Mayor Pro Tem Larry Carr and Councilman Rene Spring—will be subject to the by-district change when they next appear on the ballot in November 2020.

The mayor of Morgan Hill will continue to be elected at large under the change, according to city staff and drawmh.org. The mayor serves a two-year term.

The May 2 demand letter from Oakland law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, alleges that the current at-large system results in “vote dilution” and prevents under-represented groups such as Latino voters from “influencing the results of elections.”

The city council has held two public hearings—on June 21 and June 28—on the election system change since it was adopted.

At the June 28 meeting, Douglas Johnson, President of the National Demographics Corporation, gave a presentation about NDC’s proposal to offer mapping and demographic services to the city during the transition to a by-district system.

Public meetings and workshops on the subject will continue until Aug. 23, when the council is expected to adopt official district maps created with input from the voters and NDC.

NDC has recently offered similar services to the Morgan Hill Unified School District, when its seven-member board of trustees voted to change to a by-district election system in 2015, also under threat of a lawsuit. It has also offered redistricting services for the Santa Clara Valley Water District.

The company’s contract with the City of Morgan Hill cost $43,000.

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Starting November 2018, members of the Morgan Hill City Council for the first time will be elected on a by-district basis, rather than at large. Information about the new election system, as well as tools allowing voters to propose specific council districts, can be found at drawmh.org. The council has also scheduled a July 10 public workshop, where voters are invited to offer input and ask questions. The workshop will take place 7 to 9 p.m. at council meeting chambers, 17555 Peak Ave.

Michael Moore
Michael Moore is an award-winning journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor for the Morgan Hill Times, Hollister Free Lance and Gilroy Dispatch since 2008. During that time, he has covered crime, breaking news, local government, education, entertainment and more.

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