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Committee pushes for vote reform

Modesto's Charter Review Committee on Thursday agreed it wanted to put an election reform initiative on the November ballot, but its members couldn't decide how to replace the city's at-large City Council races.

The committee, an 11-person group appointed by the council to recommend improvements to city government, kept four options for political reform on the table:

Committee member Solange Altman advocated for moving to district elections, which would replace citywide races with ones that require candidates to live in one of six areas of town. The candidates would compete for votes only in their district.

Committee member Dave Cogdill Jr. pushed for a similar system that would require candidates to live in one of six districts, but they would have to win a citywide race to represent their area. The system ensures ageographic diversity on the council, but it does not address concerns that citywide races are too expensive.

Committee member Chris Harrigfeld pressed for a hybrid system that would set up four district seats and two at-large seats.

Committee Chairman George Petrulakis urged an advisory vote that would let Modestans choose their preferred election style on the November ballot. The top pick would come back for another vote in a subsequent election.

The committee is charged with writing a report due to the City Council within two months that could determine whether the council puts an election reform initiative on the ballot.

Committee members were concerned that voters would reject an election reform initiative. Several members said they worried they did not hear from enough people at a series of public forms over the fall and winter.

Committee members also said they wanted to choose the method that would gain the most support.

"We're at this point where we need to make a change," Altman said.

Modestans could see a district election initiative carried by former Mayor Carmen Sabatino on an upcoming ballot. It isn't clear which election the initiative would land on if the committee he's working with gathers the signatures it needs to put the measure on the ballot.

District elections in Modesto also could be ordered by a judge through a 2004 lawsuit filed by three Latinos who claim the city's at-large elections dilute the power of minority votes. The California Supreme Court recently sided with the plaintiffs, which would allow them to make their case in Stanislaus County Superior Court. The City Council has not said whether it plans to appeal the ruling.

To comment, click on the link with this story at www.modbee.com. Bee staff writer Adam Ashton can be reached at aashton@modbee.com or 578-2366.

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