Blogging Bayport Alameda

April 24, 2019

Representative representation

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:04 am

Given that it appears there is some momentum around the idea of District elections in Alameda: it’s something that came up during the City Council’s charter subcommittee follow up, the League of Women Voters has been looking into this as well, and even the ACT folks are open to it.  The last one not because they’re actually interested in minority representation for groups of people who have been traditionally disenfranchised, but for the poor beleaguered old school Alameda class who have not made good showings in recent elections.

One of the benefits of District elections is that if the city at large ever decided it wanted to try the ranked choice voting experiment it would be much easier to implement for the Council seats than the free for all we have now.

In discussing the aftermath of Measure A/B on Twitter, this Tweeter posted a nifty data visualization tool of the last Mayoral election.  The assumption — at least for me — is that the Measure A/B breakdown by precinct will look very similar to the Trish Spencer v. Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft race.  In fact on another blog a commenter, before the election, tried to frame Measure A/B as a Spencer v. Ezzy Ashcraft proxy.

The interesting thing about the Trish Spencer v. Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft data is that it breaks fairly similarly for the City Council as well, with the top vote getter, John Knox White, not winning the same precincts that Marilyn Ezzy Ashcraft lost.

I think it’s pretty fair to conclude that that visualization above is representative of the progressive v. conservative pockets in Alameda.  I am using progressive and conservative as placeholders because it’s easier to talk about it in definitive terms even though they might not be exactly precise.

There are a few larger questions around the structure of the governing body in general such as:

  1. Is five City Council members sufficient?
  2. How many districts?
  3. Is the Mayor an elected position?
  4. If it is not, is it elected within the ranks of the City Council or is it rotating?
  5. Is ranked choice voting an option?

If you did a straight geographic East West divide of the City of Alameda — making Bay Farm its own district — based on the voting patterns you’d still get a largely progressive representative for each district.  We already know that — if turnout is large enough — an at-large representative would trend more progressive too.

So the only way to force a district to be conservative is to build a district that looks like this:

Screen Shot 2019-04-23 at 3.43.24 PM

Which would result in a district which would be much smaller that other districts (see Bay Farm) which would result in.  I’m not sure how much more valuable district elections would be to build in conservative representation.  But the value in district elections is much higher than just trying to make sure that old school Alameda is represented.  Right now, the only West End resident on the City Council is Tony Daysog and he didn’t win any West End precincts out right, getting the lion share of his support from Bay Farm.  It would be good to have a representative for a District who was actually interested in representing the interests of that District.


  1. Who wrote this?

    Comment by dave — April 24, 2019 @ 6:21 am

    • There was a crack at Tony Daysog. Clearly it’s me.

      Comment by Lauren Do — April 24, 2019 @ 6:26 am

      • I’ve been reading your stuff for years and this piece isn’t your style at all.

        Comment by dave — April 24, 2019 @ 6:55 am

  2. I’d want Alameda to have a very clear understanding of why we would change this. What’s the outcome we are aiming for?

    Also we should be thinking about ways to get a broader candidate pool.

    Comment by Gaylon — April 24, 2019 @ 6:30 am

    • Good point. If it’s just to make sure that we force a 3-2 progressive v. conservative representation then it’s not worth the exercise. If it’s to increase representation for historically underrepresented subgroups, then we need to have that conversation. “Historically underrepresented” does not include old school Alameda who is feeling uncomfortable with the outcomes from the two most recent elections.

      I think the fact that we compensate the City Council too little for so much work is already a barrier in itself. It’s something that John Knox White brought up as part of the Charter review. The amount of hours expended and the commensurate compensation means that only people who are (1) employed, (2) independently wealthy, (3) retired, and/or (4) reliant on a partner for household income can even consider serving.

      Comment by Lauren Do — April 24, 2019 @ 6:36 am

  3. The map almost makes it look like someone set up campaign HQ at Jim’s On The Course

    Comment by MP — April 24, 2019 @ 7:21 am

  4. I’m ambivalent to at large vs district. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. IMO the main strength of district representation is that voters may feel closer to and better represented by their council member. They’d be more likely to know their rep personally, for example. This could result in higher voter turnout and a more engaged electorate.

    If we do go this route (and I repeat that I don’t care all that strongly either way) it should be for longer term reasons of better government, not cementing a current vote mix based on the maps of one or two elections. Such maps will change over time, the need for good government will not.

    Comment by dave — April 24, 2019 @ 7:24 am

  5. As part of this community thinking process, I’d ask the city attorney to do a risk analysis for us. Are we at risk of a lawsuit? If so, we’d have very little time to make the adjustment if someone decided to take action under the CA VRA. We could fight it, of course, but that takes money and time

    Comment by Gaylon — April 24, 2019 @ 7:44 am

  6. If you look at neighboring cities where there are district elections especially on school boards, district representative tend to focused on protecting their turf which can lead to unintended consequences.

    Ranked choice voting can (depending on the candidate pool) produce a more civil election campaigning process.

    Ultimately, in local elections money talks. So any attempts to produce equitable election opportunities for underrepresented groups would need to address campaign finance rules similar to Fremont.

    Comment by Mike McMahon — April 24, 2019 @ 7:51 am

  7. District elections would’ve made sense back when the West End was underrepresented versus the rest of Alameda. Now, with the 4-1 majority on the city council very attentive to West End and Alameda Point issues, the need is not there now. And what would happen to Tony Daysog, the same person who was booed during the 4th of July parade when he walked just a block away from his home? He does not have the votes in his own neighborhood, so the conservatives could end up without any representation at all. Like Gaylon said, what is the outcome people want?

    Comment by JRB — April 24, 2019 @ 9:09 am

  8. The California Voting Rights Act provides a private right of action to members of a protected class where, because of “dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters,” an at-large election system “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.” I don’t think political leanings (progressive vs. conservative fall in the category of protected class. Since Alameda has less than 100,000 people, it became optional, unless a complaint is lodated.

    Has the largest ethnic neighborhoods in Alameda failed to have adequate representation?

    Comment by Alan — April 24, 2019 @ 4:52 pm

  9. If anyone’s interested in learning more about this, the League of Women Voters of Alameda is hosting a forum tonight on the CVRA and district elections. It starts at 6:30 at Phoenix Alameda, 2315 Lincoln Avenue (next door to the Goodwill). Speakers will include Shelley Lapkoff, a local demographer who has worked with a number of locals to put districts in place; Robb Korinke, a political consultant whose shop, Grassroots Lab, has done some research on the efficacy of the CVRA; Fremont City Councilwoman Teresa Keng, a first-time candidate who was elected after Fremont switched to district elections in 2018; Robbie Wilson, a local activist who has considered a council run; and the League’s own Anna Crane, who will present on some of the non-CVRA oriented pros and cons of district elections. Like all of our forums, this one is free and open to the public, and we’ll be doing a Q&A at the end.

    Comment by Michele Ellson — April 25, 2019 @ 9:06 am

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