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Voters in Orange will get to pick their City Council representatives by districts, a method that is being embraced by an increasing number of cities in Orange County.

The newly-approved voting system — set to take effect for the November 2020 general municipal election — finalizes a six-month process to abandon at-large elections.

The council’s recent initial approval of a six-district map follows a lawsuit filed against Orange for allegedly violating the California Voting Rights Act. Following the lawsuit, the city agreed to change to a by-district voting system to ensure the opportunity for all voices to be heard in Orange.

Other cities in Orange County such as Mission Viejo and Santa Ana have been sued to move to by-district elections as well. Mission Viejo is currently considering the transition, while Santa Ana has already adopted and implemented the new voting system.

The map chosen by the Orange City Council consists of six districts to make it more fair and equitable to provide equal representation for all demographics in the city. The transition to by-district elections may also increase diversity on the council. In November 2020, Orange will change from a five-person City Council with one elected at-large mayor to a seven-person council with one elected at-large mayor.

Voters in each district will pick one councilmember to represent them from their respective zones, while the entire city will vote for one mayor. This new system will adhere to the Federal Voting Rights Act and eliminate all racial gerrymandering, according to demographer Justin Levitt.

Following six public hearings to review 40 maps created by residents and Levitt, the council in October unanimously selected one.

Levitt, who was hired by the city, created 10 of those potential maps for the council to review. Of all the maps reviewed, Levitt’s map 138 was chosen for the by-district elections.

“Map 138 will empower all Latino voters. Not only that, but this map will also increase the Latino eligibility voter percentage by nearly five percentage points. It could be a significant increase,” said Levitt at last month’s council meeting.

According to the 2018 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, Latinos make up 39% of Orange’s population.

Alicia Rodriguez, a resident of Orange, claims the new map will motivate all Latinos to participate in elections in their neighborhoods.

“I feel as if our voice is finally heard. I think this will motivate us to go out and vote,” she said.

Although map 138 is the current map for the new by-district voting system, it is still subject to change following the April 2020 US Census.

The City Council is expected to take a final vote on its map selection Nov. 12 at its regularly scheduled meeting at 6 p.m.

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