The Huntington Beach Union High School District (HBUHSD) Board of Trustees initiated the process to switch its current election system for school board trustees on April 4. The current system, where board members are elected at large by all voters within the district, will change into a trustee area system for the 2024 and 2026 election cycles.
The new trustee area system will require that each candidate reside within the area they are running. Only residents in that area will be permitted to vote for the candidate to represent their area on the HBUHSD Board of Trustees.
California’s Legislature passed the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) in 2002. The legislation did not require trustee area-based voting but strongly discouraged an at-large system due to its potential effect of diluting the vote of minority classes.
One of the goals of the CVRA includes avoiding racially polarized voting, or when there is a difference between the preferred choice of candidates for the minority group compared to the electorate as a whole. In these situations, this would hurt minority groups whose voices would not be heard due to being outnumbered by other majority classes. Racial polarization is a violation of the CVRA.
At the May 9 board meeting, HBUHSD Attorney Mr. Reinhardt stated that the 2022 election for the Board of Trustees experienced no racial polarization with the first, second and third choice candidates of the minority groups matching the first, second and third candidates in the election. The switch to a trustee area system comes with a desire to increase minority class representation in the future, not a violation of the CVRA.
“[The CVRA] did not require a district-based system, but they strongly encouraged it and discouraged at-large systems… The intent is to provide opportunities for minority and protected classes to vote for the candidate of their choice,” Mr. Reinhardt said at the April 4 board meeting. “The CVRA prohibits any election systems that impair the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of an election.”
The first step of the process to develop a trustee area system included two public hearings where constituents could provide input regarding the criteria to develop the maps. The Board of Trustees approved the criteria to develop several options for trustee area maps at the May 23 public hearing.
Demographers assigned to create the various options must adhere to the Federal Voting Rights Act. The population within each district shall not differ by more than 10% so each trustee area has around the same population. The shapes of the areas must also be compact and continuous without gerrymandering, the strategy of drawing district boundaries with the intention of providing an advantage to a certain party or candidate. The boundaries do not have to match school attendance boundaries, which will not be affected by the selected trustee areas.
Mr. Reinhardt clarified at the May 9 meeting that the residences of incumbent board members could be considered, but the districts could not be drawn to protect incumbents from running against each other.
A third and fourth public hearings will consider public input regarding the contents of each trustee area map. The Board of Trustees would then vote upon which map to use and submit the chosen map to the Orange County Committee on School District Organization. Afterward, an additional approval process would lead to the submission of the map to the Orange County Registrar of Voters.
Two trustee areas will be up for election in 2024 since the terms of two current incumbents will expire. The remaining three trustee areas will be up for election in the 2026 election cycle.