In July, the AC Transit Board of Directors voted to end the use of at-large elections for two of the district’s seven board seats. The decision means that by 2026, AC Transit will have shifted to an election system in which all seven of the agency’s directors represent a specific “ward,” a contiguous geographic area in Alameda and Contra Costa counties where AC Transit operates.

However, the transition to the new system can’t happen until AC Transit redraws its existing ward map, a process called redistricting.

The district announced this week that it is seeking input from the public about how to draw the new ward map in a way that equitably represents East Bay communities. More information about this is below, but first, some more background.

The redistricting process was sparked by a letter AC Transit received in March from the Oakland law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian and Ho, which is representing several residents served by AC Transit, and three registered voters: Alfred Twu, Victor Flores, and Cecilia Lunaparra. Twu has previously run unsuccessfully for an at-large seat on the AC Transit board and Flores is now running for a seat on the BART board.

The attorneys asserted that the district’s current system of representation, including the two at-large director seats, is contrary to the California Voting Rights Act. The attorneys warned AC Transit they were considering bringing a lawsuit to force the district to get rid of the at-large seats.

The state Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 2002 by then-Gov. Gray Davis. It expanded the power of minority racial and ethnic communities to challenge electoral systems that were diluting their voices and preventing governing boards of cities, counties, and special districts from having diverse leadership. The law specifically made it easier for minority groups to file lawsuits challenging local governments that used at-large elections.

According to the lawyers who contacted AC Transit’s board in March, the district’s two at-large board seats have “diluted the voting power of Asian American and Latine voters due to racially polarized voting.”

Under the rules of an at-large election, every voter in a city, county, or geographic area served by a special district gets to vote for the at-large candidates for the governing board. This system differs from ward or district-based elections, in which only the residents of a specific geographic area inside the city or county get to pick the councilmember or director who will represent them.

In the 1960s and earlier, at-large elections in places like Oakland and many other California cities resulted in primarily white people being elected to local government boards and the exclusion of Black, Latino, Asian, and other minority groups. The shift to district and ward elections ensured greater diversity in government leadership, especially when district boundaries were drawn to keep racial and ethnic communities whole.

Some AC Transit directors said at recent board meetings they don’t believe their district’s current election system has resulted in an imbalance where minority groups don’t have fair representation. But they said the threat of losing a potentially costly lawsuit is reason enough to transition to the new system.

The transit district has set up a website about the redistricting process.

These are the upcoming meetings to weigh in on redistricting, how to protect community voices, and how to draw better ward maps. (Zoom links available from AC Transit.)

  • September 6 at 6 p.m., 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA, 2nd floor board room and virtual via Zoom
  • September 13 at 6 p.m., 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA, 2nd floor board room and virtual via Zoom
  • October 4 at 6 p.m., 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA, 2nd floor board room and virtual via Zoom
  • October 25 at 6 p.m., 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA, 2nd floor board room and virtual via Zoom
  • November 8 at 6 p.m., 1600 Franklin Street, Oakland, CA, 2nd floor board room and virtual via Zoom

Correction: A previous version of this story stated incorrectly that Alfred Twu and Victor Flores had made unsuccessful bids for BART board. Twu ran unsuccessfully for the AC Transit board and Flores is currently running for BART board.

Before joining The Oaklandside as News Editor, Darwin BondGraham was a freelance investigative reporter covering police and prosecutorial misconduct. He has reported on gun violence for The Guardian and was a staff writer for the East Bay Express. He holds a doctorate in sociology from UC Santa Barbara and was the co-recipient of the George Polk Award for local reporting in 2017. He is also the co-author of The Riders Come Out at Night, a book examining the Oakland Police Department's history of corruption and reform.