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San Diego Cities Are Switching To District Elections To Increase Diversity — But Is It Working?

A woman fills out a ballot in California, June 7, 2016.

Photo by Associated Press

Above: A woman fills out a ballot in California, June 7, 2016.

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Most cities switched in the last few years to avoid lawsuits brought under the California Voting Rights Act that allege those cities are under-representing minorities.

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Aired: May 6, 2019 | Transcript

All but five cities in San Diego County now elect their councilmembers in district elections instead of in city-wide elections. Most cities switched in the last few years to avoid lawsuits brought under the California Voting Rights Act that allege those cities are under-representing minorities.

District elections, those lawsuits argue, increase diversity on city councils by giving minority populations a chance to elect someone who represents just their area.

RELATED: Oceanside Begins Move From Citywide To District Elections

La Mesa, Lemon Grove, National City, Coronado and Del Mar continue to hold city-wide elections for their city councils.

This switch to district elections mirrors a statewide trend. There are now 113 cities that have made the change or are currently making the change, plus three more that have agreed to make the change in 2021, according to data compiled by Douglas Johnson, who runs a company called National Demographics Corporation that helps cities plan out who votes for which candidate.

The city of San Diego and 28 other cities across the state used by-district elections before the passage of the California Voting Rights Act in 2002.

Johnson said there is evidence that the switch to district elections increases minority representation, but in some cities, it may yet be too soon to tell.

According to data compiled by Grassroots Lab, a public affairs research firm, of the 77 cities that switched to district elections in 2018, just under half saw an increase in minority council members.

Johnson joins KPBS Midday Edition Monday with more information on the impact of district elections.

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