The V.I. Board of Elections postponed its certification of the Democratic primary election Friday after members realized the final certification document did not include a territory-wide tally for the gubernatorial and senator at-large races. Elections Board Chairman Arturo Watlington Jr. said the document showed only the district results for both races and that he would not certify the election until the document showed a merged, territory-wide result. “Why would we certify these numbers if they only reflect the districts?” Watlington asked. “Our certification has to be territorial, as one entity.”
In late May, the Los Angeles Times published a story about a Malibu lawyer who was suing cities — alleging they failed to provide representation for low-income and minority neighborhoods. Using the prescriptions of the California Voting Rights Act, attorney Kevin Shenkman was finding success, and the story made clear that other California cities could expect to hear from him. His certified letter to the city of Santa Rosa arrived in mid-July. In it, Shenkman and a voting rights’ group called the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project put the City Council on notice that it could choose to fight a lawsuit or agree to district elections. On Tuesday night, the council capitulated, voting 7-0 to set in motion a process that could lead to district elections next year. Gone would be the system in which seven council members are elected citywide.
A coalition of 13 Asian-American and Latino Lowell residents on Thursday filed a federal voting-rights lawsuit against the city, alleging that Lowell’s municipal election system discriminates against minorities. Plaintiffs say the use of citywide at-large elections for all seats on the City Council and School Committee dilutes the combined electoral strength of minority voters in Lowell, violating the federal Voting Rights Act, as well as the United States Constitution, according to a release from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCR), a Boston-based private, non-profit, non-partisan legal organization that provides pro bono legal representation to victims of discrimination based on race or national origin.
Tucson’s unusual method of electing council members will remain. The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday morning rebuffed a bid by a group representing some Republicans to void the system of nominating council members by ward but having them elected at large. The justices gave no reason for their ruling. Monday’s action is the last word in the multi-year bid by the Public Integrity Alliance to have state and federal courts declare that the practice was an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution. Attorney Kory Langhofer who represented challengers argued that the system gave some voters more power than others and, in some cases, effectively nullified their votes. But that contention was most recently rejected by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
North Carolina: Black voters in Jones County haven’t been heard, they say. Can a new lawsuit change that? | CSMonitor
Black residents of Jones County, N.C., have struggled for years to ensure local representation, some say, but they hope that a new lawsuit will finally bring results. On Monday, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., joined with two law firms to bring a suit on behalf of black residents of Jones County, N.C. The lawsuit, filed in federal court, alleges that the county’s at-large voting system has systematically prevented black residents, who comprise almost one-third of the county, from electing the candidates of their choice to the county’s five-member Board of Commissioners. Since the five candidates receiving the most votes from across the county are elected to the board, the white majority can vote as a bloc to prevent black candidates from winning seats, the plaintiffs say. They argue that this election system has effectively sidelined the black community’s issues, since it is relatively easy to be elected without their votes. Instead, the plaintiffs propose creating single-member local districts, giving predominantly black neighborhoods a higher likelihood of electing their chosen candidate.
Arizona: Tucson asks U.S. Supreme Court not to overturn its unique council-election system | Arizona Daily Star
Lawyers for Tucson are asking the U.S. Supreme Court to spurn a bid by Republican interests to kill the city’s unique system of electing council members. In new legal briefs, City Attorney Mike Rankin said there’s nothing inherently unconstitutional about having the six council members nominated by ward but then having a citywide general election. He said it ensures that each area of Tucson is represented and yet requires council members to pay attention to voters in the other five wards. “The city’s election system allows both ward and citywide electorates a voice, and also provides benefits to both,” he argued. In a ruling last year, the full 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the practice.
The liberal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is riding the rescue of beleaguered Republicans in the Democratic stronghold of Tucson. It doesn’t get much stranger. The issue is Tucson’s hybrid system of city elections. Primaries are ward-only events. The general elections are city-wide. The result is that Republicans who get nominated in GOP parts of the city lose in the general election. Sometimes, the Democrats who are elected citywide actually lost in their home ward. If their home ward was Republican. The mayor – who ran unopposed in the last election – and all six council members are Democrats.
Around the nation, voting rights for people of color are under attack. But in central Washington, an historic advance for Latino voters is taking place in the wake of a legal victory by the ACLU. In the City of Yakima, Latinos account for approximately one-third of the voting-age population and approximately one-quarter of its citizen voting-age population. Yet, in 37 years, no Latino has ever been elected to the Yakima City Council. In the absence of Latino representation on the City Council, issues of interest to the Latino community in Yakima have been met with indifference. Now things are changing in this agricultural community of 93,000. Five Latino City Council candidates are on the ballot in Yakima’s November general election. Two of the five candidates are running in the same district, so that district is certain to have a Latino representative. However, it is possible that one, two or three other Latinos may also be elected.
Fullerton officials have settled a lawsuit alleging that the city’s at-large elections violate California’s Voting Rights Act, agreeing to create a district-based system that would then need voters’ approval. The suit, brought in March by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Los Angeles and the ACLU of Southern California on behalf of resident Jonathan Paik, argued that at-large voting prevented Fullerton’s minority populations from electing their preferred candidates. A city is stronger when residents feel heard through the democratic process. – Belinda Escobosa Helzer, ACLU Orange County and Inland Empire.
Last week’s federal court ruling ordering Yakima to discard at-large citywide elections in favor of a more representative process prescribes a needed fix, but leaves much of the rest of the state underrepresented at the local government level. The vast majority of Washington cities use at-large voting systems. That’s democracy, but not the most representative democracy. Subtly, and sometimes intentionally, at-large elections leave distinct geographic communities completely unrepresented. It’s why Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
California: Senate Bill Strengthening California Voting Rights Act Headed to Gov. Brown | California Newswire
A bill that would strengthen the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) is on its way to the desk of Calif. Governor Jerry Brown for consideration. The bill won final legislative approval today in the State Senate. SB 1365 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) would expand the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election. “With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights in Californian,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.
A former Fullerton City Council candidate is suing the city, alleging its at-large system of electing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001. The law is designed to make it easier for ethnic minorities to elect their preferred candidates by encouraging district elections to replace at-large elections. The suit filed by Vivian Jaramillo, 60, alleges that Fullerton’s at-large voting “impairs the ability of certain races to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections conducted in the city of Fullerton.” Jaramillo, a retired code-enforcement officer, was unsuccessful in bids for the City Council in 2010 and 2006. Jaramillo’s attorney was not available for comment Wednesday.
California: Bill to Strengthen California Voting Rights Act Approved by State Assembly | California Newswire
A bill to strengthen voter protections under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was approved today by the State Assembly. SB 1365 by Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima) expands the CVRA by explicitly prohibiting school boards, cities, and counties from gerrymandering district boundaries in a manner that would weaken the ability of a racial or language minority to influence the outcome of an election. Current state law only allows a challenge of at-large elections. The bill now goes to the State Senate for a final concurrence vote and then to the Governor’s desk. “With today’s vote, we are one step closer to strengthening voting rights for all Californians,” said Senator Alex Padilla. “As our state becomes increasingly diverse we must ensure that the rights of all voters are protected,” added Padilla.
Voting rights activists on Thursday petitioned the governor to intervene in their battle with the city of Palmdale over its method of electing officials. Nearly 200 Palmdale voters signed the petition asking the governor to exercise authority under state Elections Code Sections 10300-10312, according to Kevin I. Shenkman, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued the city. They want Gov. Jerry Brown to appoint a three-member commission to oversee a new election for the Palmdale City Council. Shenkman said the petition drive was spearheaded by the Antelope Valley chapters of the NAACP and LULAC and the African American Caucus of the California Democratic Party.
Santa Barbara on Tuesday joined the ranks of California cities to be sued over their method of electing public officials. Five Spanish-surnamed registered voters in the city of more than 88,000 filed suit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, claiming the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Santa Barabara Mayor Helene Schneider called the lawsuit premature and said the city had already authorized a study of its elections. The plaintiffs allege the city’s at-large elections system “has resulted in vote dilution for Latino residents and has denied them effective political participation in elections to the Santa Barbara City Council.” They want the court to order the city to begin electing its council members by geographic district. They believe by-district elections would give Latino voters, who are largely concentrated in certain areas of the city, a better chance of electing at least one representative of their choice to the council.
Florida: Groups argue State must hold statewide election if interim maps not approved | Associated Press
If a judge does not approve an interim map of Florida’s congressional seats to replace one that has been deemed unconstitutional, officials could be forced to allow voters from across the state to choose candidates for two congressional seats, the coalition challenging the current districts said Tuesday. The League of Women Voters and other groups filed court papers arguing that if new districts are not approved this year, then federal law requires at-large elections for the seats added in 2012. Florida went from 25 to 27 seats after the 2010 census. The groups acknowledged, however, that statewide elections for congressional seats are not very realistic. Instead, they urged Lewis to allow groups on both sides of the lawsuit to submit remedial maps that could be reviewed objectively by an independent expert. They repeated their suggestion that Lewis could push back the date of the Aug. 26 primary in order to have time to put a new map in place.
Oregon: Portland’s electoral system loses under California law aimed at ensuring minority representation | The Oregonian
Congress approved the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to break down the kind of system that the city of Portland uses to this day. The federal legislation prohibits voting practices that discriminate against African Americans, Latinos or other racial and ethnic minorities. Most successful lawsuits filed under the civil rights law have targeted local governments that elect representatives citywide rather than by geographic district. Courts ruled that some Southern cities used at-large elections to water down the voting power of African Americans, who lived clustered in one part of town but formed a minority of the total electorate.
In the year since the city of Palmdale’s at-large election system was found by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to have violated the California Voting Rights Act, city officials have responded aggressively. Instead of fighting so hard to keep the status quo, Palmdale should turn its attention to fixing a broken electoral system. In the fall, after Judge Mark V. Mooney ordered the city to cancel its Nov. 5 at-large election, Palmdale officials persuaded California’s 2nd District Court of Appeal to allow the election to proceed. Then, in the winter, Mooney banned the certification of the election results and ordered a new election by district rather than at large; Palmdale again appealed, arguing that as a charter city, it was not governed by the state Voting Rights Act.
Palmdale officials this week appealed a trial judge’s ruling that their at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act and said they will not hold new balloting in June. Last month, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney ordered a new, district-based elections system for Palmdale and required that it hold a special election in June to replace the city’s November at-large election. He also ruled that the current council members could not stay in office beyond July 9. The appeal automatically stays the order for a new election but not the prohibition against current council members remaining in office, thus adding to the confusion that has beset the city since the court fight began over the elections system last spring.
A group of Latino men who sued the city Thursday allege that Visalia’s “at large” system of electing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act by making it nearly impossible for Latino candidates to win. The Superior Court lawsuit seeks a court order requiring the city to switch to district elections and hold them in even-numbered years, which would correspond with state and federal election cycles. Council members are currently elected in a citywide vote in odd-numbered years, with the top vote-getters winning. The lawsuit comes less than two months after a City Council election in which the only Latino candidate came in a distant fourth behind three white incumbents in the city of about 127,000 that is 46% Hispanic.
California: Anaheim hopes to settle suit over alleged Latino political exclusion | Los Angeles Times
Anaheim is in talks to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU accusing the city of effectively excluding Latinos from holding political office and violating the California Voting Rights Act. The case is set to go to trial in March but key hearings and depositions have been delayed because the parties appear to be moving toward a deal, according to court records and a plaintiff. “For me, certainly, any settlement talks are about the city agreeing toward the direction of establishing districts, authentic districts, where the representatives are voted for by the residents of those districts,” said Jose Moreno, a plaintiff in the suit. The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Moreno and two other Latino residents of Anaheim last year in an effort to end the city’s at-large elections. Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects its leaders at large rather than by districts.
The city of Anaheim is in talks to settle a lawsuit filed by the ACLU accusing the city’s election system of violating the state’s Voting Rights Act. The case is set to go to trial in March but key hearings and depositions have been delayed because the parties appear to be moving toward a deal, according to court records and a plaintiff. “For me, certainly, any settlement talks are about the city agreeing toward the direction of establishing districts, authentic districts, where the representatives are voted for by the residents of those districts,” said plaintiff Jose Moreno. The ACLU filed the case on behalf of Moreno and two other Latino residents of Anaheim last year in an effort to end the city’s at-large elections. Anaheim is the largest city in California that still elects its leaders at large rather than by districts.
Palmdale politics could be changed forever if a judge’s ruling in a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit stands. Don’t miss a thing. Get breaking Santa Clarita news alerts delivered right to your inbox. A tentative ruling by Judge Mark V. Mooney called for Palmdale to scrap at-large elections in favor of four districts and a citywide mayoral position, which is currently held by Mayor Jim Ledford. Furthermore, Mooney’s judgment states no member of Palmdale‘s City Council, save Ledford, can hold office after July 9, 2014, calling for a special election in June. “As always, we’re pleased with Judge Mooney’s ruling and reasoning,” said attorney Kevin Shenkman, who represented the plaintiff. “It’s a very well thought-out decision. We’re happy because we think the remedy that Mooney has set out will provide an opportunity for Latinos and African Americans in Palmdale to elect their candidates of choice.”
Ol’ Elbridge Gerry is back in the dock, his namesake “gerrymander” blamed for all that ails our “gridlocked” Congress. Some claim that the House districts drawn by state legislatures in 2011 have reached new heights (or lows) of partisanship. Critics deride the shape of the districts and object to their effect on control of the House. These claims are important, but they ignore the fact that state legislatures have since 1788 sought to influence the selection of members of Congress. The current, computer-aided gerrymandering is only the most recent battle in that perennial fight. When viewed as the “selection” of sympathetic House members by state legislatures, gerrymandering reflects deeper constitutional roots than its critics admit. The Framers of our Constitution granted state legislatures key roles in the election of the members of the Senate and House. Article I of the 1787 Constitution provided for the election of senators by vote of the state legislatures. Members of the House were to be chosen by the vote of the people of each state, but state legislatures would choose the “time, place, and manner” of such direct elections,” though Congress retained power to “alter” such state regulations.
The Fremont County Commission has approved paying roughly $85,000 toward attorney fees for the plaintiffs in a 2005 voting rights lawsuit. The county’s insurance carrier is to pay the remainder of the $960,000 fee that a federal judge ordered the county to pay the lawyers who represented a group of American Indians in the suit. Commissioners used all $84,000 from their contractual services line item and dipped into the county’s cash reserve for $1,275 to fulfill their obligation. The commission has settled its financial obligations in the suit, but the legal action left a lasting impact on the county.
A judge’s halting of Palmdale’s November election could have implications for other cities facing lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney on Monday canceled the election after earlier finding that Palmdale’s at-large method of choosing council members deprived minority voters of the opportunity to elect a representative of their choice. Officials plan to appeal, with City Atty. Matthew Ditzhazy calling the ruling “wildly unprecedented and radical.” Some voters already have been sent mail-in ballots, he said. Activists seeking minority representation on city councils, school boards and other governmental bodies have been pushing for by-district elections throughout California. Ethnically diverse jurisdictions that hold at-large elections and have few, if any, minority officeholders are especially vulnerable under state law, experts said.
California: Voting Rights Act leading California cities to dump at-large elections | Los Angeles Times
First came Modesto. Then Compton, Anaheim, Escondido, Whittier, Palmdale and others were pushed into the growing ranks of California cities under pressure to change how they elect their city councils. Activists seeking minority representation on those councils are clamoring to have members elected by geographic district. Ethnically diverse cities that hold at-large elections and have few minority officeholders have proved vulnerable to lawsuits under the 11-year-old California Voting Rights Act. All a plaintiff has to do, experts say, is demonstrate that racially polarized voting exists — and often that can be done with election results that reveal contrasting outcomes between predominantly minority precincts and white ones. Across California, community college and school districts are making the switch.
A federal court struck down Fayette County’s at-large method of electing members to certain county offices, saying in an opinion released Tuesday that the method was a violation of the Voting Rights Act. A U.S. District Court judge ruled on a lawsuit that was filed in 2011 and ordered the county to establish an alternative to the at-large election method. With Fayette County being about 70 percent white and 20 percent black, according to Census statistics from 2011, officials from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund officials said the at-large method virtually guaranteed that African-American candidates would never be elected to the County Board of Commissioners or the County Board of Education.
The state House passed a measure Thursday to reform representation of minorities in local elections, over the objections of Republicans who said that the measure was unnecessary and potentially costly. The Washington Voting Rights Act passed on a nearly party-line 53-44 vote. Rep. Chris Hurst, D-Enumclaw, joined Republicans in opposing the measure. The bill now heads to the Senate, where its future is uncertain. The measure allows for minority individuals or groups to seek court-mandated orders to jurisdictions to reform their elections. Those jurisdictions include towns and cities of 1,000 people or more, school districts, fire districts, counties, and ports, among others. Among the remedies is shifting from at-large elections to district-based elections to better represent residents. Rep. Luis Moscoso, D-Mountlake Terrace, said the idea of proportional representation is reflective of American democracy. “When a neighborhood or community cannot elect representation from their locality, then that democracy is not served, and our American dream is diminished,” he said.
A group of House Democrats re-introduced a bill this session that would affect how local governments run their elections in certain political subdivisions. Known as the Washington Voting Rights Act, House Bill 1413 is intended to address underrepresentation of minority groups in local government. The bill prohibits unfair elections in which members of a protected class (members of a racial, ethnic or language minority) are unable to influence an election and/or receive adequate representation in local political subdivisions. To affect how elections are operated in local government districts, persons of a minority group must provide evidence that polarized voting has occurred and that members of a protected class, while maybe a smaller percentage of the total electorate, do not have an equal opportunity to influence election results. Polarized voting may be observed when there is a disparity between the candidate chosen by voters of a protected class or by those of the remainder of the electorate.