TUSTIN, Calif. – The City of Tustin on Monday changed its city council election system from at-large to district-based elections and adopted a four-district map that includes one district that will allow Latino residents to elect a candidate of their choice to the council.
The city council made the decision after a MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) demand letter warned officials that the change was necessary to ensure Latino voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice as required by the California Voting Rights ACT (CVRA).
“Tustin has taken an important step toward better and more inclusive governance with this change to district elections,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “All city residents, including Latino residents, deserve an elections system that gives them the opportunity to participate meaningfully in city policymaking.”
In the June 2020 letter, MALDEF said Tustin’s at-large system diluted Latino voting strength and resulted in underrepresentation. The new map, based on 2021 redistricting data, grants MALDEF’s request for a district plan that contains a district with a Latino citizen voting population of more than 50 percent. Tustin is nearly 41 percent Latino and over a quarter of the city’s eligible voters are Latino, according to 2020 census data used to draw the new districts.
Tustin, in Orange County, is governed by a five-member city council comprised of a mayor, a mayor pro tem, and three council members. Council members are elected to four-year terms. The city staggers its elections so that three council members are on the ballot during one election cycle, and two are up for election during the next cycle. Under the new election system, the city’s Mayor will continue to be elected at-large. The mayor and the council member for District 3 will be on the ballot in 2022. District 2, the new Latino opportunity district, and districts 1 and 4 will be voted on in 2024.
Under the CVRA, cities that show patterns of racially polarized voting, which curtail a minority group’s ability to elect any of its preferred candidates, must switch from an at-large election system, in which members are elected by all voters, to a district-based election where voters who live in each district select the candidate of their choice.
A copy of the letter can be viewed HERE.