Shift To Council District Elections in Orange County Helping Democrats, Hurting Republicans

The move to by-district council elections by a number of Orange County’s leading cities is working to the political advantage of the Democratic Party – a development that comes as no surprise to politicos who have been observing a process driven by progressive political organizations (which worked hand-in-glove with Republican Mayor Tom Tait in the case of Anaheim).

Anaheim, Garden Grove, Fullerton, San Juan Capistrano, Buena Park and Costa Mesa have all shifted or are in the process of shifting to by-district elections in the face of actual or potential California Voting Rights Act lawsuits.  Only seven of their combined 30 council and mayoral seats – 23% – are held by Democrats.

According to voter registration data for the Anaheim, Garden Grove and Buena Park council district maps, Democrats possess a voter registration advantage in 15 of their combined 17 council districts, or 88%.

OC Daily has not yet secured voter registration figures for the proposed Fullerton and Costa Mesa council district maps.

Anaheim was the progressives biggest prize, agreeing to a settlement agreement with plaintiff Jose F. Moreno in 2014 that ultimately led to the adoption of the so-called “People’s Map” that carved Anaheim into six council districts.

Currently, there are four Republicans and one Democrat on the city council, making Anaheim the largest city in California with a GOP council majority

Using figures from this week’s registration report from the Registrar of Voters, here’s the partisan breakdown of the new council districts (moving from West Anaheim eastward to Anaheim Hills):

District 1 – DEMOCRAT
47.8% Democrat (9,660)
27.7% Republican (5,589)
20.8% No Party Preference (4,208)

District 2 – DEMOCRAT
44.7% Democrat (9,189)
29.2% Republican (5,995)
22.2% No Party Preference (4,570)

District 3 – DEMOCRAT
49.4% Democrat (8,790)
23.7% Republican (4,226)
22.9% No Party Preference (4,089)

District 4 – DEMOCRAT
49.7% Democrat (8,367)
24.8% Republican (4,169)
21.6% No Party Preference (3,640)

District 5 – DEMOCRAT
43.9% Democrat (8,807)
29.2% Republican (5,859)
23.1% No Party Preference (4,635)

District 6 – REPUBLICAN
48.3% Republican (15,503)
27.8% Democrat (8,939)
20% No Party Preference (6,431)

The city-wide partisan breakdown is 42.1% Democrat, 32.4% Republican, 21.6% No Party Preference. Under the at-large election system, there have been GOP majorities on the Anaheim City Council for decades.

Thanks to the move to by-district elections, five of the six council districts have a Democratic voter registration majority. 37.5% of Anaheim’s Republican voters are now packed into District 6 (Anaheim Hills), with the remaining 62.5% of GOP voters spread across five council districts.

By contrast, District 6 contains only 16.6% of Anaheim’s Democratic voters, with the other 83.4% allotted to the remaining council districts.

Moving to by-district elections effectively isolates GOP voter strength in District 6 and permits strong Democratic majorities in the other districts with far fewer actual voters (the number of GOP voters in District 6 is roughly to the total number of voters in District 1).

The shift to by-district election changes alter the partisan landscape by greatly magnifying an otherwise modest city-wide Democratic voter edge – and edge that is steadily growing thanks to Donald Trump.

Democratic and progressive political organizations dominated the public map-drawing process – the true author of the “People’s Map” is a long-time Democratic activist with map-drawing expertise. In contrast, the Republican Party was not only AWOL throughout the process, but the local Anaheim Republican Assembly ultimately joined the unions and progressives in supporting the “People’s Map.”

Garden Grove currently has a four-member city council and directly-elected mayor, all elected at-large by all city voters. Mayor Pro Tem Steve Jones and Councilmembers Chris Phan and Phat Bui are Republicans, while Mayor Bao Nguyen and Councilman Kris Beard are Democrats. There’s a relative parity among Garden Grove voters in terms of party registration:

  • 38.1% Democrat (25,448)
  • 33.8% Republican (22,609)
  • 24.3% No Party Preference (16,240)

Given that Republicans historically vote at higher rates, the city council has usually had a GOP majority.

In Garden Grove, the process and results of shifting to by-district elections followed a similar pattern: the filing of California Voting Rights Act lawsuits, reaching of a settlement establishing a series of public hearings for submitting and testifying on behalf of district maps, and placing of a chose map on the ballot. As in Anaheim, the council was expanded four to six members (Districts . As in Anaheim, progressive political activists were able to dominate the process and succeeded in having their “community” map adopted. Here’s the district-by-district partisan breakdown.

District 1 – REPUBLICAN
43% Republican (5,907)
31.7% Democrat (4,389)
23.7% No Party Preference (2,943)

District 2 – DEMOCRAT
36.2% Democrat (4,384)
36.1% Republican (4,372)
24% No Party Preference (2.915)

District 3 – DEMOCRAT
35.9% Democrat (3,812)
33% Republican (3,454)
25.9% No Party Preference (2,900)

District 4 – DEMOCRAT
36.4% Democrat (4,112)
33.3% Republican (3,691)
28.8% No Party Preference (3,008)

District 5 – DEMOCRAT
44.1% Democrat (4,885)
29.8% Republican (3,241)
24.7% No Party Preference (2,502)

District 6 – DEMOCRAT
48% Democrat (3,866)
25.9% No Party Preference (1,944)
24.5% Republican (1,972)

Again, the shift to by-district elections has the effect of taking a small Democratic voter registration edge of 38.1% to 33.8% and magnifying it into a registration advantage in four of the six council seats. As in Anaheim, the fact that Republicans vote at a higher rate results in them being packed into fewer districts and thus having their voting power diluted. District 1 is strongly Republican and has 13,792 voters, while heavily Democratic District 6 has only 8,030 voters.

Buena Park
Buena Park is another example of a city with a nominal Democratic registration advantage with Republican city council (only one of the five members, long-timer Art Brown, is a Democrat):

  • 42.2% Democratic (13,849)
  • 31% Republican (10,175)
  • 23% No Party Preference (7,559)

Like Costa Mesa earlier this summer, Buena Park decided a CVRA lawsuit would go against it and surrendered to what was felt to be inevitable. Again, progressive groups like OCCCO and the Korean Resource Center organized for the mapping process, which produced a map in which all five council districts have Democratic voter majorities.

District 1 – DEMOCRAT
37.5% Democrat (2,375)
32.8% Republican (2,081)
26.6% No Party Preference (1,688)

District 2  – DEMOCRAT
55.1% Democrat (2,763)
22.1% Republican (1,109)
19.8% No Party Preference (994)

District 3 – DEMOCRAT
41.3% Democrat (3,088)
32.3% Republican (2,415)
22.1% No Party Preference (1,658)

District 4 – DEMOCRAT
37.4% Democrat (2,739)
34% Republican (2,490)
24.5% No Party Preference (1,798)

District 5 – DEMOCRAT
43.5% Democrat (2,884)
31.4% Republican (2,080)
21.4% No Party Preference (1,421)

Again, carving Buena Park into single-member council districts had the effect of significantly magnifying a nominal city-wide Democratic registration advantage. A city council with four Republicans and one Democrat approved a map in which every council district has a Democratic majority.

Progressive Interests Pushing In Cities At The Tipping Point
It isn’t difficult to see the pattern. Progressive political interests are using the California Voting Rights Act as a political tool to re-structure the election systems of Orange County cities with nominal Democratic registration edges but with traditionally Republican city councils. Compared to traditionally Republican constituencies, a lower percentage of Democratic-leaning voter demographics are registered to vote, and of those who are, even fewer regularly cast ballots. That’s primarily why you have GOP council majorities in OC cities with Democratic voter pluralities and at-large council elections.

Shifting to by-district elections flips that around. Council districts have to be equal in total population, not the number of actual voters. As we’ve seen, this results in Republicans being packed into a few districts. which is tremendously advantageous to Democrats and other progressive interest groups.

This could not be happening at a worse time for Republicans. Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has spurred a spike in Democratic voter registration unlike anything seen in years – and the shift to council districts spearheaded by progressive interest groups is magnifying those gains. Across the board in Anaheim, Buena Park and Garden Grove – Democrat numbers are going up while both Republican and No Party Preference numbers are in relative decline. While these factors exist independent of role played by various political interests, the sustained, organized and focus efforts of progressive partisans have redounded to the benefit of the Democratic Party, while Republicans have been hurt by their inexplicable absence.


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