August 23, 2014
The City of Highland has decided, under threat of litigation, to place a measure on the November Ballot that requests the voters of Highland to determine whether or not they want the City Council broken into district representation.
I do not use the term “broken” lightly. Regardless of the claims of some minority victim groups, “breaking” a city into districts, or Wards as they use in San Bernardino, has proven to be a poor facilitator of government effectiveness and representation. Any novice can look at the results of district elections in municipal government to determine its failure locally. I give you three examples: Colton, Pomona, and San Bernardino. Each of these local agencies has failed even though most of their neighbors have been quite successful.
The clear matter of facts are that district representation divides cities and limits voter involvement. In many cities, only a handful of votes are required to elect a city council member in one district while many times the number of votes are required for election in another. Cities like San Bernardino, Colton, and Pomona have been notable, not for their success, but for their corruption.
In elections with low turnouts, absentee ballot scams have been rife. Consequently, the aforementioned cities have had decades of prior prosecutions for malfeasance by elected officials. In these low turnout elections, a few thousand dollars are all that has been needed to turn an election.
Anyone can perform even a cursory evaluation of these elections and determine that districts in municipal elections do not create increased community involvement or transparency. In reality they do just the opposite, they create districts that unfairly and unfortunately concentrate legislative power in the hands of a very few.
San Bernardino is the most clear example. While the population is separated among seven “wards”, the majority of participating voters is represented by only three council members. Thus, a majority of the council, is elected by only a small plurality of actual election participants. Worse, council members in these small turnout wards need only serve a very small percentage of the city’s population to guarantee their reelection.
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