Irvine politicians are about to pick the city’s first map for district elections on Tuesday night, ending months of debate on what the future of the city’s elections will look like.
The final map will have to go before the city’s voters for approval during the March 2024 primary election.
If approved, it would also expand the council from five to seven members and make the mayor the only position elected by the entire city’s voters.
In a district election system, voters only get to pick one candidate in the district they live in and the mayor. In an at-large system, voters get to vote for how many seats are up for grabs – for example, if three seats are up for election, voters get to pick three candidates.
Cities across Orange County have increasingly switched to districts over the past two decades, with cities like Anaheim, Fullerton, Santa Ana, Mission Viejo and others all making the shift themselves or being pushed into it.
Most cities have faced legal threats over the issue, with voter advocacy organizations alleging at-large elections disenfranchises minority candidates and voters.
While hundreds of proposed maps have been submitted, the city council narrowed the selection to five “focus maps” in September, with three maps that were submitted by the public and two that were created by the National Demographics Corporation, the city’s contractor reviewing the maps.
To look at the selection of maps, click here.
All five of the finalist maps divide the city up in vastly different ways, but all kept UC Irvine and the Great Park Neighborhoods in their own districts, while neighborhoods between the 405 and 5 freeways split in different ways.
The new maps all broke the city into six districts, guaranteeing seats for six council members and a mayor, who would still be elected by the entire city, instead of the city’s current system with four council members and a mayor who are all directly elected.
Irvine is currently the largest city in the county with a five-person city council – one council member per 61,000 residents.
Under the new districts, each council member will represent a specific district with around 50,000 residents.
Even if the proposed maps are not approved, the fall election is already guaranteed to bring at least one new person onto the city council, with Mayor Farrah Khan termed out of office at the end of 2024.
She’s currently running for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors against incumbent Supervisor Don Wagner.
Councilmembers Larry Agran and Tammy Kim are already running for her seat.
City leaders have been discussing moving to district elections for over two years, when they were initially threatened with a lawsuit from voting rights attorney Kevin Shenkman that could’ve forced the city into district elections whether they like it or not.
But that lawsuit ultimately never materialized after city council members said they wouldn’t go quietly and Shenkman backed off.
In February, city council members decided to move ahead with district elections anyway, later hiring the National Demographics Corporation to help residents and the city itself draw up a series of proposed maps for the council to approve.
Correction: An earlier version of this story claimed Councilwoman Tammy Kim was elected in 2022, but she was elected in 2020. We regret the error.
Noah Biesiada is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at email@example.com or on Twitter @NBiesiada.
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