The City received two separate letters from attorneys charging that Concord's at-large elections didn't conform to the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). Under this statute, local at-large voting systems are prohibited if they "impair the ability of a protected class … to elect candidates of its choice or otherwise influence the outcome of an election." The remedy available under the CVRA is usually for the city to move to district elections.
Considering the significant costs to defend against a CVRA lawsuit and that no city has prevailed, a majority of cities receiving such "CVRA demand letters" have voluntarily transitioned to district-based election systems.
Safe Harbor from Demand Letters
On January 1, 2017, the California Voter Rights Act Reform (AB 350) became effective which allows cities a "safe harbor" following receipt of a CVRA demand letter. This provides 45 days of protection from litigation to assess the situation, and if a resolution declaring an intent to transition to district-based elections is adopted within the 45-day period, then a CVRA action is forestalled for an additional 90-day period, providing the City time to assess and implement a course of action. By taking this approach Concord caps its financial liability at a maximum of $30,000. The Concord City Council decided to move forward with District Elections under the safe harbor provided by the California Voter Rights Act Reform.