Our View: In divvying up Turlock, count the actual voters

04/25/2014 7:14 PM

04/25/2014 9:22 PM

Turlock made a good call to abandon at-large City Council elections and move to district elections. Well, the council had no choice, really. It was either that or face a lawsuit, which could cost the city millions – as it did Modesto. So the City Council voted Tuesday night to divide the city into districts in time for the 2016 and 2018 elections.

We applaud the reasoning; improving minority representation on councils and school boards is a huge positive.

But students of history know that 100 years ago at-large elections were seen as a remedy to the political problem of that day – corrupt politicians who controlled entire cities by rigging votes in just a few neighborhoods.

Looking at the numbers, we can see how it could happen. Take Modesto’s 2013 election, which had three districts. Each district contains a roughly equal number of residents – but not an equal number of voters. One district had 4,146 voters, another 5,034 and a third only 1,465. The winner in that district would have needed only 489 votes to win (one vote more than a third of the total in a three-way race).

We are not suggesting that District 2 winner Tony Madrigal did anything wrong or underhanded. Far from it; he ran a good campaign and won by an almost 2-to-1 margin. He earned his seat on the council. The point is that the districts – while equal in residents – were not equal in voters. The winners in the other districts needed three times as many votes to gain their seats.

We hope the company Turlock hired to draw up a proposal for districts, National Demographics Corp., keeps this in mind: It shouldn’t be enough to get the overall number of voters even. One goal should be to get a comparable number of people who will actually participate.

Pass the tissues, please

We got some bad news in Monday’s paper: We’re in for a very wet season – wet noses and wet eyes. The experts say that one side effect of our drought is to dramatically increase the pollen in the air and to get the allergy season started early. We’re not alone. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America says 40 million Americans suffer from outdoor allergies, and most of us are (or become) allergic to more than one thing. What to do about it? Not much, other than to say “God bless you,” when you hear that familiar aaa-chew.

A deep subject on Maddy Report

We often recommend listening into the Maddy Report on the weekends, but this weekend’s podcast ( www.calchannel.com or www.maddyinstitute.org) is more of a must-listen than most: “Groundwater Pumping: A Race to the Bottom?” Host Mark Keppler will have his usual panel of experts. It’s especially important here as Stanislaus County grapples with establishing rules for well permits.

Flocking to the UCs

The University of California is more popular than ever, hence 148,688 applicants to attend the campuses. The most popular campus in America is UCLA, which got 105,824 applications. Berkeley drew 90,284 (including transfer students), while Merced, the youngest campus, had 17,469 applications – 278 more than last year. The more the merrier.

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