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Last year, a city commission redrew San Diego’s City Council boundaries to account for shifts in population and decided to create a second, Latino-majority district.
The district stretches from Southcrest to City Heights and then northeast to neighborhoods around San Diego State University. Though Latinos succeeded in getting another Latino-majority district, there was some worry that their influence would be diminished by the inclusion of neighborhoods like Kensington and Talmadge.
The majority of residents in Kensington/Talmadge and College Area are white and previous elections showed they voted more often than Latino areas to the south. (The exact number of white or Latino voters in each neighborhood is unknown. Election officials report vote totals by precinct which can then be compared to the Census maps.)
The city commission aimed to address this concern. In an August 2011 report explaining the new boundaries, it wrote, “The Commission did not wish to dilute the voting strength of this significant Latino community and drew boundaries that it believed provided fair representation.”
But on Election Day last month, few voters from the district’s most Latino neighborhoods showed up to pick their council representative for the next four years. Voters from white-majority areas actually played a much larger role in the election’s outcome. They represented about 60 percent of the turnout.
Unofficial precinct results show current District 7 Councilwoman Marti Emerald nearly clinched the election with the votes she received from white-majority areas alone. In order to defeat her, nearly 90 percent of voters in the Latino-majority areas would’ve needed to vote for her competitor, activist Mateo Camarillo.
Of course, that didn’t happen. Emerald won a majority of voters in nearly every precinct throughout the district. In total, about 72 percent of voters across the district backed Emerald over Camarillo.
Still, the results underscore a disparity in electoral power between northern areas with more white residents and southern areas with more Latino residents. Unless turnout evens out across the district, candidates campaigning toward the interests of northern residents will gain a strategic advantage in future elections.
The maps below help illustrate how this disparity became apparent following the June 5 election. The first map shows where Latino residents are concentrated, the second map shows election turnout and the third map shows the election results.
In last month’s election, the disparity in voting power favored Emerald. She got her strongest support from high-turnout, white-majority areas while Camarillo received the most backing from low-turnout, Latino-majority areas.
The divide isn’t completely surprising. Camarillo had largely billed himself as being the Latino candidate. He had advocated for the creation of a second Latino-majority district and wanted the city commission to exclude neighborhoods like Kensington and Talmadge.
Camarillo lives in Kensington and argued the new district’s first representative should be Latino. When no Latino stepped forward to challenge Emerald, who is white, Camarillo said he felt compelled to enter the race.
Ultimately, Camarillo’s pitch didn’t win enough voters across the district. Emerald won another term on the City Council and her first term representing District 9.
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