A federal judge has rejected a challenge to the California Voting Rights Act, which has required numerous local governments to switch from at-large to district elections to empower their minority populations. But the conservative who won a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a key section of the federal voting-rights law says the California case is headed for higher courts. “We are disappointed with the ruling. We have every intention of seeking an appeal (in) the Ninth Circuit (Court of Appeals), and beyond if necessary,” Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, said Tuesday. The California law, passed in 2002, requires local governments and districts that hold at-large elections, drawing all candidates from the entire area, to change to district elections if a local minority group can show that voting in the community favors the majority because of racial polarization. That requires proof that a majority racial group has historically voted as a bloc to elect its own candidates or to pass race-related ballot measures opposed by minorities.
“It’s having a big impact in California,” said Rick Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor and election-law expert. He said many school districts, in particular, have had to adopt district election plans in recent years after being threatened with lawsuits. San Francisco switched to district elections under a local ballot measure that took effect in 2000.
Defenders of at-large elections say they encourage candidates to consider the diverse views of an entire community. Opponents say those elections allow a majority, whether racial or political, to ignore minority concerns.
California courts upheld the law in 2006, rejecting arguments that it was racially discriminatory, and the U.S. Supreme Court denied review. But Hasen said the high court might take a different view now in light of its 2015 ruling on the federal Voting Rights Act.