Palm Desert's District 2 voters moving to ranked choice system for November election

Sherry Barkas
Palm Springs Desert Sun

Residents of Palm Desert’s District 2 will be casting their votes for city council in a different way this year, using the ranked choice system to fill two seats up for election.

Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank up to three candidates by preference. It is a system being used in about a half-dozen California cities, including San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley, but Palm Desert is the first in Riverside County make the change.

Palm Desert is broken into two voting districts. District 2 is the largest, encompassing about 80% of the population, with four representatives on the council – two elected every two years.

Jan Harnik

Incumbents Jan Harnik, the city’s current mayor, and Sabby Jonathan are up for reelection. Both have pulled papers, along with first-timers Carlos Garcia and Gregory Meinhardt.

Only Harnik, running for a fourth term, has completed the filing process.

The deadline to pull and file nomination papers is 5 p.m. Aug. 12. If an incumbent does not file, the deadline is extended by five days to Aug. 17, in accordance with California’s election code.

District 1 has one representative elected every four years. The seat is currently held by Karina Quintanilla and will be up for reelection in 2024.

Two districts or five?

Sabby Jonathan

All Palm Desert voters, regardless of district, will vote on a ballot measure asking if the city should move from two to five districts.

The city shifted to districts with the 2020 election as part of a settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed in Jun 2019. Quintanilla and resident Lorraine Salas sued the city, stating Palm Desert was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act with its at-large voting system.

The voting rights act requires that cities switch to districts, grouping “communities of interest” to ensure that protected minorities have a better chance for representation.

Since the settlement agreement was reached, many residents have said they want to see the city move to five districts. Those who support the move say they want a representative in their community who is easily accessible and understands the issues of their neighborhoods.

Quintanilla is the only council member who supports moving to five districts. Others say they believe it will divide the city, and they feel they are elected to represent all who live in Palm Desert.

Still, the council decided to put the issue to public vote, though Jonathan voted no, saying he didn’t like the language of the measure, and that the citizens should have taken the steps to put it on the ballot, rather than the council.  

As approved by the council, the ballot initiative will read:

“In Palm Desert now, District 1 (the area surrounding Civic Center with 20% of the population) selects one Council representative every four years, and District 2 (the other 80% of the City) votes for a total of four Council representatives, picking two representatives every two years. Should District 2 be divided into four smaller districts, with all voters selecting a single Council representative from their smaller district where they live, to serve for four years?” Yes or No.

Carlos Garcia

Garcia has stated his support for moving to five districts, and is part of a citizen group called Drive4Five. 

Meinhardt told The Desert Sun he doesn't want to talk about his background or campaign until he has filed his nomination papers.

Why the move to ranked choice voting?

Ranked choice voting has been around for centuries, first introduced in the 1850s as a proportional representation system to be used in multi-winner elections. It was later adapted for single-winner elections.

Palm Desert was initially going to move to the new system with the 2020 election, but delayed it due to the pandemic

City Clerk Anthony Mejia said there are plans for community outreach to help explain the new system to voters ahead of the election, beginning with the creation of an animated video in English and Spanish explaining how ranked choice works.

A webpage dedicated to ranked choice voting in English and Spanish is being developed as well, and expected to launch in late August or early September, or sooner if possible, Mejia said.

Once the website is ready to launch, the city will put out press releases and use social media to let residents know he said.

This map outlines Palm Desert's two voting districts.  District 1, the smallest of the two, is highlighted in green, and District 2 is in purple. The council adopted the new map on Thursday, March 10, 2022.

An article on ranked choice voting will also be included in September/October edition of the city’s newsletter, “Brightside,” which is posted online at the city’s website, and at City Hall.

The city is also developing some handouts describing out ranked choice works.

Community outreach will be done through a variety of presentations, including Coffee with the Mayor, Palm Desert Rotary Club, chamber of commerce business breakfast, Sun City/Palm Desert Democrats and East Valley Republican Women Patriots, Mejia said.

Information will also be available at vendor booths at the Palm Desert Certified Farmers Market, concerts in the park and the golf cart parade.

“I will be seeking out other organizations that would like a presentation and I am willing to attend other organizations’ meetings upon request,” Mejia said.

Palm Desert election information, including a list of who has pulled papers or filed to run for City Council in the Nov. 8 election can be found on the city’s website,

Desert Sun reporter Sherry Barkas covers the cities of La Quinta, Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage and Palm Desert. She can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @TDSsherryBarkas