An effort to expand California’s Voting Rights Act to allow claims of racial discrimination in the configuration of election districts has been vetoed by Gov. Jerry Brown. The legislation, SB1365 by state Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Pacoima (Los Angeles County), was passed in the wake of a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that weakened the federal Voting Rights Act. That law had required state and local governments with a history of racial discrimination — including Monterey, Yuba, Kings and Merced counties in California — to obtain approval from the Justice Department or a federal court before making any changes in their voting rules. California’s Voting Rights Act, signed by Gov. Gray Davis in 2001, allows minority groups to challenge “at-large” elections. All candidates in at-large elections compete for votes in an entire city, county or special district, increasing the likelihood of control by a white majority that votes cohesively. Suits filed under the law have prompted more than 100 local governments and agencies to switch to district elections, with a better chance of minority representation.
Under Padilla’s bill, the law also could have been used to challenge the drawing of local district lines on the grounds that they were intended to dilute minority votes, either by packing racial groups into a single district or by splintering them across several districts to minimize their influence.
Minority advocates, the League of Women Voters, state Attorney General Kamala Harris and Secretary of State Debra Bowen, a fellow Democrat whom Padilla is hoping to succeed in office, supported it. It cleared both houses on party-line votes but was vetoed Tuesday by Brown, who indicated he saw no need to broaden the state law.