County warned not to dilute Latino vote in redistricting

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When Angel Barajas was elected as Woodland’s first Latino Yolo County supervisor in 2020, it happened in the supervisorial district with the highest percentage of Latino residents.

Since 2010, the Latino citizen voting age population in District 5 — which encompasses north Woodland as well as Knights Landing, Yolo, Madison, Esparto and the Capay Valley — has increased from 34.5 percent to 40.7 percent of the electorate. And those Latino voters largely favored Barajas over incumbent Duane Chamberlain in the March 2020 election.

According to data from the UCLA Voting Rights Project, the larger the percentage of Latinos in each precinct, the higher Barajas’s vote share in that precinct.

“In contrast, Chamberlain received strong majority support in precincts with fewer than 20 percent Latinos,” the voting rights project said in a memo to the Board of Supervisors this week. “In this particular election, Barajas won because of high Latino vote support.”

The result of that 2020 vote, in which Barajas ultimately defeated Chamberlain by 443 votes out of 9,331 cast, marked a changing of the guard of sorts, as Barajas, a former Woodland City Council member, Democrat and son of farmworkers defeated the longtime Republican farmer and supervisor.

Now, as the county prepares to redraw district lines, the UCLA Voting Rights Project is warning county supervisors not to dilute the Latino vote in District 5.

According to the UCLA Voting Rights Project, a map with a Latino citizen voting age population below 40.7 percent in District 5 would likely violate voting rights law and invite a lawsuit.

The county’s advisory redistricting commission has recommended three different maps — out of half a dozen they considered last week — that the Board of Supervisors will consider during a public hearing on Tuesday. Map 2 would reduce the Latino citizen voting age population in District 5 to 35.6 percent and Map 4A would reduce it to 40.1 percent. Only Map 5 would meet or exceed that 40.7 percent threshold, with a Latino citizen voting age population of 42 percent in District 5.

At issue for the Board of Supervisors, which will ultimately select a final map, is competing interests. Many community members want the city of Winters to be moved from District 2, which is largely dominated by the city of Davis, to District 5 and its more rural populations.

Winters had been in District 5 prior to 2010 redistricting and back then Chamberlain and Supervisor Jim Provenza of Davis urged the board to keep it that way. Instead, the board voted to move Winters into District 2 and add a portion of Woodland to District 5.

Chamberlain, who had represented District 5 since 2004, called the process “jury-rigged.”

“Taking Winters out, where I had a lot of support, and adding Woodland … it was tough,” he told The Enterprise in 2012.

That was the year he was challenged by Art Pimentel, another former Woodland City Council member, but managed to hold on to his seat. In that race, Chamberlain did better in the Woodland precincts than Pimentel did in the unincorporated areas and voter turnout was extremely low, particularly in Woodland.

That changed in 2020 when Barajas, buoyed by the increased population of Latino voters, did well enough in both areas to defeat Chamberlain.

That victory, according to the UCLA Voting Rights Project, changes things.

“Now that a Latino preferred candidate has been elected in a majority-Latino district, Yolo County must ensure that Latino voting strength is not diluted or decreased under their new 2021 map,” the UCLA memo states.

“Given the closeness of the election in which Barajas received a majority of his support from Latino voters, decreasing the Latino population in the 5th District would put Supervisor Barajas, and future Latino candidates, at risk of not being electable in this district, and would amount to the intentional dismantling of a currently performing minority district,” the UCLA voting rights project said, adding that, “Yolo County must tread very carefully as it approaches this round of redistricting.

“Now that District 5 elects Latino candidates of choice due to Latinos making up 40.7 percent of the (citizen voting age population) in District 5, their electoral power and opportunity to elect candidates of their choice cannot be weakened.

“If Yolo County were to adopt a map during the 2021-2022 redistricting round that when subject to a racially polarized voting analysis indicates dilution of Hispanic voting power, then the county can be subject to a Department of Justice enforcement action or a civil suit by affected voters.

“Litigation over redistricting plans is costly and onerous litigation,” the UCLA memo added.

That warning will be among the considerations facing county supervisors Tuesday.

The board will not be making a final decision; rather county supervisors will receive public comment on the draft maps and offer their own as part of the ongoing redistricting process.

That process began in April with the formation of the advisory redistricting commission, a panel that has worked with consultant Redistricting Partners on demography, mapping and outreach.

On Nov. 1, the commission voted 6-1 to submit those three draft maps to the Board of Supervisors for consideration.

County supervisors now have the options of accepting, rejecting or altering any of the maps or providing direction to staff to draft new maps for the advisory redistricting commission to consider.

Following discussion on Tuesday, county staff anticipate returning to the board on Nov. 23 to present a final map for adoption.

The bottom line for the UCLA Voting Rights Project: “There is no logical reason to reduce the Latino population in the existing District 5,” said managing attorney Sonni Waknin.

“Yolo County’s Latino population has only recently been able to exercise their political power after 10 years and county officials cannot adopt a map that would undermine that power.”

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