JOSHUA TREE — In the past, everyone in the Morongo Basin could vote for everyone on the Copper Mountain College board of trustees. That will change in the future, as the college joins the growing list of government boards to form new districts with each represented by a single member.
Acting in closed session Feb. 13, board members approved the new election system. In doing so, they avoided a potential lawsuit by an election rights group threatening to sue over violations of the California Voting Rights Act.
Morongo Unified School District and the councils of Yucca Valley and Twentynine Palms all received similar lawsuit threats in the past three years and all agreed to move to elections by district.
“Essentially there is a letter that all municipalities ultimately get, typically from one or two or three entities in the state,” CMC Superintendent Daren Otten said Wednesday.
In the college’s case, the Southwest Voting Registration Project notified the college that a plaintiff who lives in the Morongo Basin intended to sue if CMC did not move to district elections.
Without districts, voting rights advocates say, government boards dilute minority voters’ ability to affect elections.
Trying to fight districting in court has proven costly for other agencies.
The city of Palmdale lost a lawsuit over districting and had to pay $4.7 million to the plaintiffs’ lawyers. That was on top of Palmdale’s own $2 million legal fees.
The CMC board of trustees decided not to go to court over districting, instead agreeing to draw up new districts and pay $30,000 in legal fees to the Southwest Voting Registration Project.
That payment is standard practice for governments contacted by voters rights groups and attorneys.
“We agreed that we were not going to carry this to trial. There’s no winning there,” Otten said.
Twentynine Palms, Yucca Valley and the Morongo Unified School District all paid demography companies to help draw up maps for the new voting districts.
Copper Mountain College will be able to use 2020 census data.
The new districts will be drawn up after 2020 census data is released after April 1, 2021, but before the 2022 general election, according to CMC.
Once the board of trustees approves the new districts, each board member will be elected by one of those districts.