Paso Robles voters will soon be divided into four districts — a process the city must undergo to avert a lawsuit alleging the city’s electoral system dilutes Latino votes.
The city in August received a letter from a lawyer representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) alleging the existing at-large model cancels out minority votes.
The at-large system allows all Paso Robles voters to select council members — as opposed to a by-district system, in which voters choose candidates to represent only their area of the city.
SVREP — a nonprofit dedicated to increasing Latino and minority participation in elections — says the at-large system prevents Paso Robles’ Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.
As a result, the city is in the midst of changing its electoral system. By April, voters will be divided into four districts of about 7,448 residents each, according to National Demographics Corporation (NDC), the organization contracted to draw the district map.
The mayor, the fifth member of the City Council, will continue to be elected through an at-large system.
Council members on Tuesday night hosted one of a number of public meetings required by the California Voting Rights Act as demographers begin to draw Paso Robles’ new electoral maps.
Thirty-four percent of the city’s 29,793 residents identify as Latinos, according to NDC data. Latino residents make up 24 percent of citizens of voting age in Paso Robles.
The city’s eligible Latino voters are concentrated along Highway 101 on the north and south ends of town, according to an NDC demographic map.
Paso Robles residents are encouraged to use NDC tools to draw district maps representing their interests. All maps submitted to the city will be considered by the City Council, said Douglas Johnson, president of NDC.
On Tuesday, only two residents provided public comments, both expressing their frustration with the switch.
The commenters pointed to Councilwoman Maria Garcia, who was elected in November, as an example of the city’s ability to elect a diverse range of candidates without changing its elections.
“I think all this does is keep encouraging this racial divide,” Chip Tamagni said.