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5 changes for Anaheim now that district elections are coming

After a tough legal battle, followed by political stalemate, Anaheim finalized its new voting districts for city council members Tuesday night and will start using them in November.

For the first time, Anaheim residents will elect city council members by districts instead of at-large or citywide. And the new council will be a larger one, consisting of six members instead of four. ​

The move comes after years of complaints about unequal representation of Latinos and other minority ethnic groups in local politics. 

“We’re changing the way we elect the people,” said Mayor Tom Tait on Tuesday. “We’re changing the way we are to be governed. This brings government much closer to the people and City Hall much more accountable to the people.”

District elections have been a long time coming for Anaheim. The fight started in 2012 when a group of Latino voters sued the city claiming the at-large voting system was unfair to minority residents and prevented them from having equal representation on city council.

Through a settlement agreement, the city asked voters to weigh in. Anaheim residents passed the district elections measure in 2014 with 68 percent of the vote.

A committee of retired judges held a series of public meetings last year to come up with a voting map. After more meetings and some drama, the city council settled on the committee recommended map dubbed by the community as “The People’s Map.”

The map outlines the six new districts--four of which will go up for election in November. The mayor will continue to be elected at-large.

“Anaheim is ready to move on and I’m sure you are, too,” South Anaheim resident and union organizer Martin Lopez told the council on Tuesday.

With that in mind, here are some immediate changes you can expect now that Anaheim has a new districts voting map in place:

1. The county’s registrar will update his voter rolls.

Anaheim voters used to cast ballots for every council seat that was up for election no matter where in the city you lived. Now, with district elections, only residents that live in those districts up for election can cast ballots for their candidates of choice. (Reminder: the mayor will still be elected at-large.)

In November, districts 1, 3, 4, and 5 will be up for election.

Orange County Registrar of Voters Neal Kelley said his office would be obtaining data from the city of Anaheim to integrate into its precinct system to determine which voters are in which districts and who will need a ballot.

“It’s pretty seamless,” he said.

2. Expect a voter education blitz.

If you haven’t already determined what district you live in, check out the map and soon enough the voter registration rolls will be updated. But spokesperson for the City of Anaheim Mike Lyster said the City Clerk's office will soon launch a public awareness campaign.

He said residents will see the new voting map at public libraries and community centers indicating which district you're currently in. Look for write-ups in the city's Anaheim Magazine, which has a Spanish edition. 

"The City Clerk’s office also will be on hand at community events with our Anaheim Votes pop-up display with information about districts and the election," Lyster said.

3. Expect voter registration events.

It’s simple: electing a candidate of choice requires voting. And to vote, you must be registered.

Districts 3, 4 and 5 in Anaheim are heavy Latino districts but only District 3 is a considered to be a Latino voter majority district. District 4 and 5 are pluralities so it'll take a full force of showing at the polls plus some collaboration with other community groups for Latinos, as a group, to elect candidates of their choice.

You can expect community groups, Orange County political parties and candidates to hold voter registration events to sign up Anaheim residents eligible to cast ballots.

4. More candidates, more campaign signs.

Not only will you have two additional council seats up for elections than in the past, but also district elections, in theory, attract more would-be candidates from the voting population.

Note: July 6 is the deadline for candidates to register with the Orange County Registrar of Voters.

Expect more campaign signs in yards and taped to fences this summer – that’s if candidates and campaign committees have the money to spend on marketing.

But again, in theory, district elections are supposed to do a better job than at-large elections of keeping big money out of campaigns simply based on the idea those residents, businesses and stakeholders that live in a particular district will care about their candidates and not others running in other districts … in theory.

5. Maybe a new map in the Anaheim City Hall lobby

If you’ve ever been to Anaheim City Hall, you’ve seen that big map of the city hanging above the information desk near the entrance. No guarantees or confirmation but maybe the city will swap it out for the new district voting map that shows the six districts and their boundaries.

And with that in mind, Anaheim council members can expect less elbowroom on the dais – quite literally. Although there are already two empty chairs on each end of the council chambers, elected officials will have to get used to seeing two more bodies sitting in those chairs.