A shift from an at-large to a trustee area election system this year will determine three seats on the San Benito High School District Board of Trustees for the first time in November.
For the current five-member board, the change in format was a welcome one. It was unanimously approved, along with a trustee area district boundaries map, at a Nov. 17 meeting.
“I think our board from the beginning either didn’t have a strong opinion one way or another, or were in favor of it,” said Board President Steve Delay, recalling the extended process that included several public hearings to allow for community input and the hiring of a demographer to draw the trustee area maps. “I don’t think any one of us saw a downside to passing it.”
That was not the case in many other districts and municipalities across the state, where the threat of litigation, backed by the California Voting Rights Act, prompted boards to reluctantly make the change from the traditional at-large to a trustee-area election system.
In November, Delay, along with colleagues Juan Robledo and William Tiffany, if they decide to run for re-election, will be part of the first trustee area elections in San Benito County. Delay and Robledo have already indicated they plan to run for another term.
The difference this time is that they will not run against one another in an at-large pool of candidates. Instead, they will each campaign in their designated trustee area where they reside in as will any challengers to their seats. Furthermore, only those residents who live within the specific trustee area can vote in that corresponding race.
The driving force behind the California Voting Rights Act is to provide an election system that allows more opportunity to underrepresented, minority groups to fill spots on governing bodies.
“I think it’s going to work eventually,” said Robledo, who is the only Hispanic trustee on the current board. “It’s not guaranteeing a position (on the board) for anyone. It’s just making it possible.”
Delay and Robledo said they were aware of the Voting Rights Act and “rumblings in other cities” over its merits prior to hearing directly from local representatives of the League of United Latin American Citizens back in February 2017 about wanting to make the change in Hollister.
“They thought it would be nice to go to district elections,” said Delay of the group’s members who also recommended the trustee area map from a choice of maps drawn by the demographer that was later passed by the school board in a 5-0 vote.
The recommendations for the district boundaries that “allow for more representation for some of the groups in town,” Delaney said. “We all looked at each other and said, ‘Looks good to me.’”
The trustee area format also changes the way candidates will approach their campaigns, according to Robledo and Delay. Instead of trying to get out to voter households throughout the entire county, it allows candidates to focus on a smaller, more concentrated area.
“When I ran as an at-large candidate, there were six or seven candidates and the top three got in. That’s a lot of people running against each other,” Robledo said. “There’s some good people who ran and didn’t get elected. That’s why I feel I’m fortunate to get the nod from voters.”
Robledo was first elected in 2006. He then lost his re-election bid in 2010. However, two years later, he was appointed by the board to fill in the final two years for a trustee who resigned. Robledo then won that seat in 2014.
Despite a more limited campaign area, Delay said that won’t play much into his decision-making process on the board, especially since it is a one high school district.
“I think all of us feel that we’re still looking at the entire county. Even though we represent a small group of people, we are still representing the county,” Delay said. “Everybody wants what’s best for the kids and what’s best for the community, and I don’t think this will change that.”
One potential issue the board discussed was what happens if nobody decides to run in any one particular trustee area. Robledo said that “puts the burden on the board” to appoint a trustee instead of the voters electing one.