There are big changes on the horizon for the citizens of Lowell. A settlement filed Wednesday in Boston federal court could usher in a whole new electoral system there, starting in the year 2021. This is the result of a voting rights lawsuit brought by Latino and Asian-American residents in Lowell. WGBH Radio’s Gabrielle Emanuel has been following the suit. She discussed the settlement with WGBH All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard. This transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: So the lawsuit aimed to address the fact that even though almost half of Lowell’s citizens are not white — 49 percent — the city council and the school committee in Lowell have been almost all-white for decades, and that has to do with their election system. Talk about that.

Gabrielle Emanuel: Back in 1957, the city of Lowell adopted an all at-large system for electing its city council and its school committee. So everyone in Lowell votes, and the top candidates citywide win. This means that 51 percent of the residents can elect 100 percent of the city council and the school committee. And as you said, the reality has been that the elected officials are overwhelmingly white. In particular, they often come from one affluent neighborhood. So what happened was that Latino and Asian-American voters teamed up and brought a lawsuit in 2017 contending that they were not being represented. This is actually the first time these two groups have teamed up in a voting rights lawsuit. Now their lawsuit went to mediation after more than a dozen sessions. They came to this settlement that was filed in court, and now it needs a judge's stamp of approval.

Read more: As Voting Rights Lawsuit Heads To Mediation, New Election System Likely For Lowell

Howard: Well, what does the settlement say?

Emanuel: It says that starting in 2021, municipal elections in Lowell will be barred from utilizing the current all at-large system, and the residents of Lowell will help the city council pick an alternative system from a series of options that are laid out in the settlement. For example, one option is a district-based system where you vote neighborhood by neighborhood. Another is a hybrid system, where there's some district councilors, some at-large. We have that here in Boston. Another option is ranked-choice voting, where you pick your favorite candidates and order them by preference, as you see in Cambridge. Now there'll be a series of public meetings to teach all the residents about these different options. Then come November, the favorite two will be on the ballot for a non-binding vote. And in December, the city council will make the final choice. It will all be implemented in 2021 because it takes time to draw districts and implement a whole new system.

Howard: So those two favorites will be on the ballot for people to choose which method they want to use for elections. This lawsuit was questioning whether Lowell City Council is representative of the residents there, but now they are the ones ultimately picking the next system. Is that right?

Emanuel: Yeah, that is right. It's ultimately the council's choice. And there are two things to know about this. First, because they're picking from a series of options that have been laid out in the settlement, both sides say all of those options are fair and more equitable than the current system. And when I spoke to the city solicitor of Lowell, she told me that there's really no other way to do it – it has to come from the city council that will then pass it on to the state.

Read more: Lowell Residents Challenge The City's Voting System

Howard: Well is that an admission by the city of Lowell that the current system is a problem?

Emanuel: I asked them that. City Solicitor Christine O'Connor said “I think in part it's an acknowledgment that the system certainly could be better.” But O'Connor added that a lot of Lowell residents actually like the current system. And she said part of the motivation to agree to this settlement is that they acknowledge that if they kept going, this current system could face challenges in the future. And she's hopeful that the residents of Lowell will find something to like in the new options.

Howard: Well, is there anything else we need to know about this?

Emanuel: Yeah, there are a few things. Often when you see voting rights lawsuits like this, the resolution is figured out behind closed doors, where there's a new system picked and then it's announced. The big thing is, that didn't happen here. Something different happened. They narrowed down the options to ones that are known to be fair and now they're giving it back to the community to weigh in on the different options. I spoke to Oren Sellstrom with Lawyers for Civil Rights. He represented the plaintiffs here. He said this is unique - “I think there are going to be many jurisdictions that are going to be looking to Lowell and the resolution of this lawsuit as a model and as a blueprint for how other resolutions can occur."

Howard: Well what's the next thing now to happen in Lowell?

Emanuel: So the judge needs to sign off on this, and the lawyers are hoping that will happen in the next few weeks. And then the public meetings to educate the residents of law can get underway.

Howard: That’s WGBH Radio's Gabrielle Emanuel. We will be following this as the city of Lowell picks a new electoral system that is said to be more representative of the residents who live there.