Frequently Asked Questions

 
  • What is the problem facing Santa Clara right now?
     

  • Why is this happening now?
     

  • Will Measure change the power structure in Santa Clara that has been concentrated in a few political families?
     

  • How does the 2x3 plan in Measure A work?
     

  • Are smaller districts easier for candidates to run in?
     

  • Will 6 districts be more effective in bringing out minority voices
     

  • How was the 2x3 plan created?
     

  • Is Measure A consistent with the California Voting Rights Act?
     

  • Is Ranked Choice Voting complicated? Will it turn away voters?
     

  • What if a voter wants to rank only one candidate? Would that ballot be marked invalid?
     

  • Will the Ranked Choice Voting ballots be translated into other languages?
     

  • Is there enough time to educate voters and implement this new system?
     

  • What happens if Measure A does not pass? 


What is the problem facing Santa Clara right now?

Santa Clara currently uses an at-large election system to elect city council members and has had a virtually all-white City Council since 1951, despite Santa Clara’s growing diversity. At-large elections, which are relics of the Jim Crow era of the American South, are prohibited under the California Voting Rights Act when they impair the ability of minority groups to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of elections. Measure A replaces its one at-large election with two at-large elections, which does nothing to solve the problem the City has had for the last 70 years. 

Why is this happening now?

The City of Santa Clara was sued last year for the discriminatory effects of its at-large election system. The City has tried to get out of the lawsuit by making a nominal change to its election system, and is now asking the voters of Santa Clara to approve this ineffective change.  Instead of supporting a single-member neighborhood district electoral system that has proven to facilitate diversity, the City came up with an experimental plan combining multi-member districts with ranked-choice voting—a system that has never been used before in any jurisdiction in the country. Multi-member districts behave and act like at-large districts, in which a group of voters can control all the available seats in the district to the exclusion of other groups, even if they make up a significant portion of the population.

Will Measure A change the power structure in Santa Clara that has been concentrated in a few political families?

Measure A does not solve the dynastic issue of Santa Clara politics.  The City Council chose this system precisely to keep the power structure in Santa Clara the same, and to keep the same political players in power. 

Drawing single-member neighborhood districts that are geographically distinct breaks dynastic control of Santa Clara, where the same political players are generally concentrated in one area: the Old Quad.  With single-member districts, Santa Clarans (for the first time in some cases) may see candidates run in races without a political dynasty candidate on the ballot.

How does the 2x3 plan in Measure A work?

The 2x3 plan divides Santa Clara into two “districts” represented by three councilmembers each along El Camino Real. El Camino Real is the heart of the Asian American community in Santa Clara. The Korean community that lives and works along El Camino Real, which is often referred to as the capital of Korean-American community in Northern California, would see their community split in half. Measure A poses a threat to the political representation of the Korean community, who would be unable to, as a group, collectively voice their problems as a neighborhood. Measure A also poses these same threats to the Indian community that runs along El Camino Real.

Are smaller districts easier for candidates to run in?

For city politicians, a smaller district allows more localized campaigning and more responsive and inclusive governance. Smaller districts are cheaper for candidates to hold races, empowering grassroots campaigns.  Part of the reason the City Council doesn’t see many fresh faces is because it takes a lot of money to campaign in the entire city—and Measure A does nothing to relieve that financial burden for up-and-coming candidates. Measure A's privileges high-income candidates and donors whose financial influence can run a campaign to reach 60,000 people in each district. Measure A stymies grassroots efforts of representation.

Will 6 districts be more effective in bringing out minority voices

Unequivocally, yes.  This demographic map of the City of Santa Clara by Race/Ethnicity reveals that Latino Americans live in the central parts of the city while Asian Americans live in the areas bordering Berryessa in San Jose to the north and in areas bordering Cupertino and Sunnyvale to the South.  A six district plan could mean that districts are drawn around these communities to ensure that Asian American and Latino/a voters can elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcomes of elections

How was the 2x3 plan created?

City Council commissioned a Charter Review Committee and an Ad Hoc Committee to create the 2x3 plan. City Council recruited and appointed membership of both bodies from within its own network. No Asian Americans served on the Charter Review Committee. One Asian American commissioner served on the three-member Ad Hoc Committee, and in the final vote of how the 2x3 plan was to be divided, the plan proposed by the Asian American commissioner (which did not cut the Korean and Indian communities along El Camino Real) was voted down in a 2-1 vote.

Is Measure A consistent with the California Voting Rights Act? 

We believe that if approved, Measure A will violate the California Voting Rights Act (CRVA). Judge Kuhle, the judge presiding over the current lawsuit has already indicated that Measure A is a "suspect" plan, meaning that it is liable to the same CVRA challenges as the at-large election system.  Lawsuits over the legality of the plan could cost taxpayers in the city millions of dollars.

Is Ranked Choice Voting complicated? Will it turn away voters?

Studies show that any change to an election system must be accompanied by ample voter education and ballot translation. The City of Santa Clara has not defined the rules or mechanisms of the single transferable vote variant ranked choice voting in the text of Measure A, nor has been transparent with these rules publically. The City of Santa Clara also has not indicated its budget priorities and contingency plan to educate voters for ranked choice voting. These plans should be available before the June election, so voters have confidence that the city is prioritizing accessibility. Voter education and ballot translation plans should not be dependent on adopting Measure A, providing convenience only to City Council that a political remedy solves their short-term problem of ending litigation. Santa Clara should show it fully embraces ranked choice voting for all to participate.

What if a voter wants to rank only one candidate? Would that ballot be marked invalid?

Without a voter education plan, voters will not know they have to rank more than one candidate. Cambridge, Massachusetts, which is the only city that uses the single transferable vote variant of ranked choice voting in the United States, discards ballots that are marked invalid. Cambridge is also transparent with its electoral system -- written into Massachusetts general law, the city explicitly describes the procedures of invalid ballots. Santa Clara has no such transparencies.

Will the Ranked Choice Voting ballots be translated into other languages? 

In a diverse city where people of color are the majority of the population, Santa Clara should have released a plan for ballot translation of ranked choice voting simultaneously to proposing Measure A in January of this year. Santa Clara has not yet specified what plan it proposes. Without a plan, thousands of Santa Clarans who depend on a translated ballot will be disenfranchised from voting.

Is there enough time to educate voters and implement this new system? 

Officially, the city has written a blank check in the text of Measure A that ranked choice voting will only be deployed once the city has the resources to administer the system. Ranked choice voting becomes dependent on City Council, which can cite a range of reasons to delay the city from using this system. This also creates a layer of confusion -- Santa Clarans do not have a timeline to expect when to transition to ranked choice voting when they vote for Measure A. Hypothetically, some Santa Clarans may perceive the November 2018 election as having ranked choice voting and may vote their ballots as such.

What happens if Measure A does not pass? 

If Measure A does not pass, a judge may decide the best election system to solve the problems presented by the lawsuit. It is perceived that if Measure A does not pass, Santa Clara will return to the at-large election system. Santa Clara City Council acknowledges on its website that elections will change, meaning City Council understands that no matter the outcome in June elections will not return to the at-large system.