Minority groups seeking more influence in local government would have a potentially powerful new tool at their disposal under a proposed expansion of the California Voting Rights Act. The way Los Angeles County — among others jurisdictions — has drawn districts for elected officials could face a legal challenge in California if a bill, introduced by state Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), becomes law. It took a federal lawsuit more than 20 years ago to create the first Latino-majority district on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. More recently, advocacy groups have argued for a second district, noting that Latinos make up nearly half the population of the county. A majority of the current board has resisted drawing new district boundaries to accomplish that.
Minority groups have successfully sued cities and school districts in recent years under the state’s Voting Rights Act, which allows challenges to voting systems where representatives are elected at-large. To prevail, groups must show their voting power has been diluted.
Padilla’s proposal would expand that legal concept and allow challenges to systems where officials are elected by district. If the legislation is enacted and violations of the law are found, a judge could order the local government to redraw district lines or increase the number of seats on the elected body to ensure minority voters are treated equally.
Currently, challenges to district-based voting systems are permitted only in federal court.