Contra Costa County Elections Department wrongly blames Martinez School Board, City for voting confusion

by Jonathan T Wright and Rob Schroder

In a recent letter to voters, the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder and Registrar of Voters, advised an unknown number of voters residing in both the City of Martinez and the Martinez Unified School District that their voting precinct had been eliminated and they would be permitted only to vote by mail from now on. In the letter, the blame for these monumental changes is laid squarely at the feet of the Martinez City Council and Board of Education.

We would like to set the record straight.

Precinct creation and polling place designation are the sole responsibility of the Elections Department. Although not mandatory, the Elections Department may designate precincts as vote-by-mail if a given precinct has fewer than 250 voters. Neither the City of Martinez nor the Martinez Unified School District created these new “vote-by-mail” precincts. The Registrar of Voters did a disservice to Martinez voters when they advised confused voters to contact the city and school district rather than the Election’s Department. This action has left voters confused, frustrated, and angry.

As you may recall last fall, both the city and school district were threatened with lawsuits alleging both agencies suffered from racially polarized voting and were in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). Despite the lack of veracity to their claims, the self-appointed group who instigated these threats would have taken both agencies to court, at great expense to taxpayers. Rather than expend our limited resources, both agencies separately engaged in an open and transparent process to create voting districts: one for each of the five school board members and one for each of the four members of the city council. (The mayor’s seat remained at-large, as passed by voters in a referendum in 1976.)

After consulting expert demographers, holding numerous public hearings, and publishing our draft maps online for public comment, each agency adopted their own district election maps according to strict criteria. At the request of the Elections Department, both agencies incorporated changes to proposed district maps to preserve existing precinct lines. However, the city and school district do not share boundaries, as a result, each set of maps is different. The responsibility of reconciling these new voting districts with existing precincts belongs solely to the Contra Costa County Clerk-Recorder Elections Department.

We know that voters who received the letter from the Elections Department have felt frustrated and disenfranchised. Although it is not noted in the letter, despite a legal obligation to do so, all voters who vote by mail have the right to vote or return their ballot in person to any polling place in the county on election day or to early voting locations. The Elections Department is also required to notify voters of the nearest county polling places that they could submit their ballot.

To each voter who will now only be able to vote for one city council member and one school board member every two years, we extend our deepest apologies. The move to district elections was not a circumstance of our own making. If both the city and school district were allowed to approach the issue in an organic, grassroots effort rather than under threat of legal action, the final maps may have been quite different and would have reflected a thoughtful, community-oriented approach that would have empowered voters rather than disenfranchised them.

Wright is President of the Martinez Unified School District School Board and Schroder is the Mayor of the City of Martinez.

9 Replies to “Contra Costa County Elections Department wrongly blames Martinez School Board, City for voting confusion

  1. I received one of these letters. What a mess. Thank you though for making it clear what happened, how it happened and the rules the council had to follow to draw the districts. There was no Gerrymandering involved in drawing the districts, despite what some would have you believe and fb myths. We cannot vote for council this election at our house, being in district 3. This was not needed in Martinez and in fact will do the opposite of what disctisting is intended to do in some other cities, in Martinez. In my opinion. But I had more thoughts on this the other day that I posted about.
    ( One problem with district voting. Which Martinez now has. What if you live in a district and like the person on the council who represents your district ? And say you want to run for council. You would have to run against someone you like. The lines on the map are not really who those council members represent, three lines come down the valley right by our house. Entirely arbitrary. You are not going to run against someone you like on the council. But maybe there is another seat open, from a district you are not in, that you would possible consider running against? In a district one or two blocks from your house? You cannot. We cannot even vote for council this election being in district three. That seat does not come up for 2 years. And as I said, the council member of district three is not only a friend, but someone I want on the council. This is all kinds of wrong imo. It does not make sense. )
    This was forced upon us. Not by a vote which is what a democracy is supposed to do imo. For such drastic changes in how we vote or live. But by threat of lawsuit in tough times when we need every dollar to fix roads or hire police.
    But each person on the council has a vote. We all have an interest in who is elected. And one long time councilperson is running unopposed because of this new districting this election. So no one has a say in if they will serve another 4 years or not. They will. Because of dissecting. ( Not saying they are not worthy to be on the council or would not win by vote anyway, just that no one in their district or in the City has a say. No one else is running for council in their district, so they will be re-elected.) And I think this will be true more often than not, since incumbents are tough to beat and less people will challenge them. Especially in their districts.
    So personally I think that groups plan has already backfired on them. Their real reason for bringing this to Martinez. To get rid of incumbents and the Mayor and put in their own people. Not by vote, but again by threats, playing dirty and without giving their name. And not being honest. Plus for their plan to work ( in my opinion ) , they needed a rotating Mayor and 5 districts. They could not have that because the people voted for a Mayor at large long ago and that I believe would take another vote to change. I like having one Mayor.
    But another part of their plan backfiring is that I am now firmly a Mayor Rob supporter and believe we need him there now more than ever. As before I would have considered a new person. Not now. The Mayor has stood up to this and other deceptions and hidden agendas and I have agreed with him on every one. But to end this long ( sorry ) comment, do not blame the city or the Council for this mess. That blame belongs to someone else’s hidden agenda. Crying wolf with Race, which is probably the worst part of this. A serious issue which this does a disservice too. It is this group who brought this here. Not the Council or City. And I do thank the Council and Mayor for their tireless work fighting to protect us from these scams.

  2. Rob, Canciamillia the Election Dept chief is Glover’s best friend maybe you should talk to him about the snafu? Oh that’s right, Glover has disappeared from Martinez once he was re-elected. He only shows up for Board meetings in Martinez, then he’s right back over the hill. You and the other council members who voted for him were played. Bravo! We need better representation in Martinez and you’re not it!

    1. I’d take Federal not doing anything over that horror Anamarie Farias out to destroy our towns with her ego, bullying, lying, attacking and plain psychopath behavior. She needs to be institutionalized…

  3. Nice try at self-righteous indignation over a problem the school district and city largely created themselves.
    I guess we’re supposed to conveniently ignore the fact that both the school district and city drew (or how about gerrymandered?) their trustee zones so that every incumbent was safely ensconsed in a different area and would never have to worry about running against one another. Or the fact that neither agency made even the slightest effort to educate voters about the voting changes and their implications (I guess elected officials believe “informational” mailers can only be used when the goal is to convince voters to levy more taxes on themselves). There was no information at all about these changes on the school district’s website before I pointed it out a couple months ago, and the city never did get around to explaining who lived in what trustee areas before the filing deadline to run for office. Of course, we all know that keeping the public in the dark is the easiest way for those in power to retain their grip on power and pursue their own self-interested agendas. It’s becoming increasingly clear there is a lot of darkness in Martinez politics, something that this blatant attempt to throw election officials under the bus can’t change.
    On a positive note, it’s nice to see that our mayor and school board president are finally working together on something, however trivial. Maybe they can now get together and figure out exactly how they want to spent sales tax proceeds on “school safety” since they apparently never bothered to discuss the issue before the city filed its ballot language for the tax. Wouldn’t it be nice if our school board president and mayor could occasionally talk about things that actually matter to their constituents?

    1. I am not an overwhelming fan of either elected official in this editorial, however I am a parent in MUSD. I did receive monthly emails from the superintendent all last school year and almost every month there seemed to be an update on the district voting lines changing. I saw a few different maps that were sent out. I also heard about this at PTA meetings. This made me watch board meetings on youtube and I saw for myself the topic discussed and explained quite a bit. I think the information was put out there but its up to parents and community members to educate themselves at some point.

  4. This entire episode was a complete farce.

    The would-be plaintiff in this case is hardly an example of bloc voting based on race. The best example of how little water this charge held was the election of Anamarie Avila Farias herself.

    A Hispanic woman, handpicked to sit on the Planning Commission by Mayor Rob Schroder, yes each council member gets to weigh in on the selection of commissioners but his is the ultimate vote. Her record on the commission shows a concerning amount of absences along with documented animus amongst her follow commissioners. Most of which can be found within the pages of the Gazette. Even though the digital footprint was mysteriously lost, not once, but twice, there are still the printed pages bound in books in the Gazette’s offices and on microfiche at the main library in Pleasant Hill.

    To make a claim that Farais went into her race for council with a bit of baggage would not be unfair.

    Then we had Dylan Radke. Both Dylan’s parents are seen as giants in Martinez environmental protection movement. With Kathy being lionized by George Miller in the Congressional Record both she and Ted having the shoreline named after them demonstrates Martinez had it’s own version of a political dynasty, should Dylan have succeeded in his bid for council, in the making. Dylan, in his own right a champion of small business (just ask Lemongrass), an environmental attorney, a really nice guy, and well a White male.

    If race was a motivating factor in how elections are won and lost in Martinez, Dylan should have been the natural selection.

    But in the three way race for two seats, one vacated when Janet Kennedy retired, Anamarie came in 1st, Mark Ross 2nd, and Dylan Radke 3rd.

    I call BS, but y’all can make up your own minds.

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