From the Front Lines

The City of Santa Clara will be voting on a ballot measure to divide the city into districts and institute ranked-choice voting. The measure, based on recommendations made by FairVote, is in response to a lawsuit brought against the the city of Santa Clara in November of 2016 by the Asian Law Alliance, which claims that the city of Santa Clara’s winner-takes-all, single-district elections violate state law by discriminating against Asian-Americans. According to San Jose Insider’s Jennifer Wadsworth, “The California Voting Rights Act prohibits at-large elections in jurisdictions with racially polarized voting patterns, which, according to the lawsuit, persist in Santa Clara. Not a single Asian-American has won a seat on the council since at least 1951, when Santa Clara adopted its city charter.” Asian-Americans, the fastest growing demographic in the city, make up about 37.7% of the population based on the 2010 census, yet they struggle to obtain representation under the current election system.

In response to the court ruling, the Santa Clara City Council unanimously voted to put Measure A on the June ballot. Measure A proposes to amend the city’s charter to create two districts and elect 3 city council members from each using ranked-choice voting (RCV). The mayor, clerk, and police chief will also be elected citywide by RCV. If the measure is passed, Santa Clara will become the first city in the country since the 1950s to use this form of multi-seat RCV. The full study can be found in the links below. The Libertarian Party, as stated in our platform, supports electoral systems that are more representative of the electorate at the federal, state, and local levels, and we believe this qualifies; therefore, we support the passage of Measure A, regarding it as an improvement over the flawed current system.

Measure A was the result of recommendations by FairVote, a nonprofit organization focused on advocating for electoral reforms that are aimed at increasing voter participation. FairVote, which has operations in many states and cities and has previously allowed us to increase Libertarian participation in the voting process, held a public event on March 9th to present their proposal to the public and then met with the Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County at our March 24th central committee meeting. During both events, the representative was able to confidently respond to our many questions about how the districts would be drawn and what factors had been considered. For instance, opponents of Measure A had claimed the cost of RCV systems would be too high; however, we were assured by FairVote that the City of Santa Clara is already in the process of upgrading their voting machines, and we have confirmed the new machines have the ability to support RCV at no additional cost.

The Libertarian Party of Santa Clara County was also approached by the Asian Law Alliance, the same group who sued the city. That organization’s representatives called Measure A a “voter suppression measure” and stated their position that redistricting decisions be left to “the courts and judges” within the city. When asked how their proposed solution would prevent gerrymandering or what the cost would be to have our court system take on such a project, the Asian Law Alliance had no answer. There was also a suggestion in the San Jose Mercury News that using multi-seat districts would leave some areas unrepresented, but our vice-chair, Mark Hinkle, is skeptical, saying, “The SJ Mercury News thinks district elections would prevent council folks from coming from one area, but the voters, if they truly cared about such things, can already do that at the ballot box by voting for candidates that don't live near one another. Voters already have the power/choice.”


Press Links:

  • FairVote and the Libertarian Party <article>
  • Lawsuit: Santa Clara Elections Run Afoul of Voting Rights Act <article>
  • Study of voting systems for Santa Clara, CA - Metric Geometry and Gerrymandering Group, February 2018 <study>
  • Santa Clara’s Proposed Charter Change Getting National Attention <article>