California: California Voting Rights Act survives legal challenge, but it’s not over | San Francisco Chronicle

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.

California: Santa Clara’s current voting system isn’t fair, judge says | San Jose Mercury News

In a declaration that may force Santa Clara to deal with long-standing complaints about equal representation on the City Council, a judge on Tuesday said the city’s current election system isn’t fair to minority voters. Superior Court Judge Thomas Kuhnle leaned in favor of the group of Asian Americans who sued Santa Clara last year claiming the city’s at-large election system discriminates against Asian Americans by diluting their vote. “Based on the evidence presented at trial, the court finds that plaintiffs have proven by a preponderance of the evidence that the at-large method of election used by the city impairs the ability of Asians to elect candidates as a result of the dilution and abridgment of their rights as voters,” wrote Kuhnle in a proposed statement of decision Tuesday. “Having found the City liable for violating the [California Voting Rights Act], this action will now proceed to the remedies phase.”

California: Latino groups join voting rights lawsuit | The San Diego Union-Tribune

A number of civil rights organizations and activists are asking to join the opposition to a federal lawsuit that challenges the constitutionality of the California Voting Rights Act. The groups, which include the oldest and strongest Hispanic rights organizations in the country, want to side with the California Attorney General’s office in opposition to the lawsuit. Filed on behalf of former Poway Mayor Don Higginson with representation and funding from the conservative Virginia-based The Project on Fair Representation, the lawsuit claims the voting rights act violates the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by denying all citizens the right to choose who they want to represent them.

California: Conservative group sets sights on California’s Voting Rights Act | San Francisco Chronicle

A conservative who led a successful legal challenge to a core provision of the federal Voting Rights Act is training his sights on California’s version of the law, which allows minorities to challenge the practice of local “at-large” elections on the basis of racial discrimination and seek to switch them to voting by district. The 2002 California Voting Rights Act forces cities, counties and school districts “to make race the sole factor in districting,” said Edward Blum, president of the nonprofit Project on Fair Representation, as his Virginia-based group asked a federal judge to overturn the law. The contention is related to the reverse-discrimination argument Blum’s group used in 2013 when it persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the 1965 federal law’s central enforcement provision.

California: A voting law meant to increase minority representation has generated many more lawsuits than seats for people of color | Los Angeles Times

Two years ago, the city of Palmdale settled a lawsuit alleging that its system of electing all four council members by citywide votes was rigged against Latinos and other minorities. In addition to a $4.5-million payout, the city agreed to scrap its “at large” voting system and create four separate council districts, including two with Latino majorities. The result? The city had one appointed Latino council member before the rules change. It still has just one, though that member was elected. Facing the threat of similar lawsuits under the California Voting Rights Act, several dozen cities across the state have switched from citywide elections in which all voters choose everyone on the council, to district elections in which geographically divided groups of voters each elect their own representative. And more are preparing to switch. But those efforts have so far failed to deliver a surge of Latino political representation inside California’s city halls.

California: Bill that would mandate district elections moves forward in Assembly | Santa Clarita Valley Signal

A bill that would force larger cities in California, including Santa Clarita, to use voting districts to elect council members is continuing to move through the state Assembly and has already passed further than a similar proposal did last year. Assembly Bill 278, introduced by Assemblyman Roger Hernandez, D-West Covina, recently passed the Appropriations Committee — the same committee where a similar bill died last year. AB 278 would require any general law city with a population of 100,000 or more to move to district-based elections, in which residents in specific areas would elect a single council member to represent their areas, rather than having a voice in every council member up for election. Santa Clarita has about 213,000 residents.

California: Palmdale officials settle lawsuit, agree to voting by district | Los Angeles Times

Palmdale officials Wednesday night announced that they have agreed to major changes in their elections system, settling a widely watched lawsuit over minority representation and the California Voting Rights Act. Until now, Palmdale was a lone holdout in a string of lawsuits filed against cities that resisted district voting, which backers say helps minority groups gain elected office. The city agreed to align its balloting to coincide with state and federal general elections, starting in November 2016. It also agreed to have voters choose elected officials by four geographic districts, including two with Latino majorities, rather than from the city as a whole.

California: Fullerton’s at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans, suit says | Los Angeles Times

Two civil rights groups sued the city of Fullerton on Wednesday, saying the college town’s at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans. In their lawsuit, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A. allege Fullerton’s system for electing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act and blocks large segments of the community — especially Asian Americans — from having a voice in city government. “Almost one in four eligible voters in Fullerton is Asian American, yet despite their sizable numbers, no Asian American currently serves on the City Council,” said Deanna Kitamura, senior staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A.

California: Activists appeal dismissal of voting rights lawsuit in Whittier | Los Angeles Times

Activists in Whittier on Monday filed an appeal to a judge’s dismissal this month of their lawsuit challenging the city’s system of electing its officials. Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael M. Johnson on Thursday granted the city’s request to dismiss  the suit alleging that  its at-large method of electing council members violated the California Voting Rights Act. When voters gave the city permission this year to switch to electing officials by geographic district, the lawsuit became moot, Johnson said in dismissing it. Whittier is one of several California cities  with significant minority populations but few or no minority elected officials. Activists have been suing such cities, school districts and other local government bodies, claiming the at-large elections deprive minorities of opportunities to elect a representative of their choice.  Several jurisdictions have switched to district elections when confronted with evidence of racially polarized voting.

California: Judge dismisses voting rights lawsuit against Whittier | Whittier Daily News

A Los Angeles Superior judge has dismissed a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed against the city of Whittier by three Latino residents. Judge Michael Johnson ruled the city’s actions to change from an at-large voting system to one that is districted, something the suit sought, alleviates the issues in the original lawsuit. ”There can be no question that the City’s adoption of a new voting system has made Plaintiffs’ original complaint moot,” Johnson stated in his ruling. The judge also rejected the plaintiffs’ motion for an amended complaint, which was filed June 23 after the city voted in the districted elections on June 3.

California: Vote for one candidate – several times: It could become legal in Santa Clarita elections | KPCC

Santa Clarita voters may become the first in California to elect city and community college officials by cumulative voting. The little-used system would allow voters to cast multiple votes for the same candidate. For example, in a City Council election to fill three seats, a Santa Clarita voter could cast three votes for just one candidate, or distribute votes to two or three candidates. After hearing arguments on Monday, Superior Court Judge Terry Green approved cumulative voting in Santa Clarita city and the Santa Clarita Community College District. The ruling could help resolve lawsuits claiming violations of the California Voting Rights Act, according to attorney Kevin Shenkman.  With cumulative voting, individuals who are part of a minority bloc of the population could amass their votes behind a single candidate and win a seat, Shenkman said. He represents two plaintiffs who had sued to eliminate the traditional at-large voting system used in Santa Clarita elections.

California: State high court declines to hear Palmdale voting rights appeal | Los angeles Times

The California Supreme Court on Wednesday declined to take up the city of Palmdale’s appeals in a voting rights lawsuit it lost last year. The high court’s decision is the latest in a series of legal setbacks the city has faced since a Superior Court judge last year ruled Palmdale was in violation of the California Voting Rights Act and ordered it to hold a new election with council members chosen by geographic district. The trial judge said the current city council, elected at large, could not hold office after July 9. The city appealed parts of the ruling but the appellate court upheld the trial judge, prompting Palmdale officials to turn to the state’s high court.

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.

California: Suit says at-large elections in Fullerton violate rights | The Orange County Register

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.

California: Proposal could create more voting districts anchored by minorities | Los Angeles Times

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.

California: Voting rights activists seek governor’s help in Palmdale case | Los Angeles Times

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.

California: Activists sue Santa Barbara, alleging voting rights violations | Los Angeles Times

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.

California: ‘Voting’ Part of Voting-Rights Settlement Not Actually Workable | SCV News

Despite various Santa Clarita Valley governing boards’ approval of election changes in response to California Voting Rights Act concerns, an outdated county system won’t be able to handle the changes for at least another four years, officials said. “Our current voting system both the devices we use at the polls and, more importantly, the tabulations system we use… can not run a cumulative voting system,” said Efrain Escobedo, governmental and legislative affairs manager for the Los Angeles County’s Registrar-Recorder’s Office. “It’s just the limitations of the technology,” he said, referring to a voting system created in the late 1960s. And there’s no statewide precedent for how cumulative voting — a system that would allow a voter to cast up to three votes for one candidate in a three-seat race — is to appear on the ballot. “There’s also no voting system currently approved for use in California that can actually do that, either,” he said.

Editorials: What’s wrong with Palmdale: an unfair election system | Los Angeles Times

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.

California: Judge Orders Palmdale To Pay $3.5M For Voting Rights Act Violation | KHTS

The city of Palmdale was ordered to pay the plaintiffs $3,563,259 for the fees and costs related to a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit for which the city recently lost an appeal. The move comes amid a court-supervised settlement conference being held between representatives for the Santa Clarita Community College District and the plaintiffs in a similar lawsuit facing the college’s governing board. Palmdale could still seek a review of the appellate court decision to the state’s Supreme Court. An attorney for the city indicated Palmdale City Council members would direct him as to whether the city would seek a review of the appellate decision.

California: Appeals court says Palmdale must do away with at-large elections | Los Angeles Times

An appeals court on Wednesday dealt Palmdale a double blow in a long-running battle over the way its city officials are elected. The court rejected Palmdale’s contention that, as a charter city, it is not subject to the California Voting Rights Act — a ruling with implications for Whittier and other cities being sued over alleged voting-rights violations. The three-member panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal also upheld a trial court’s ban on certifying the results of the city’s Nov. 5, 2013, municipal election. Attorneys for the city and the plaintiffs disagreed over the effect the ban would have on city operations. Kevin I. Shenkman, the lead plaintiff’s attorney, said that unless the election is certified, the city will not have a functioning City Council after July 9. That was a deadline set by the trial judge last year when he ordered a new election that conformed with the Voting Rights Act.

California: Santa Clarita goes beyond one man, one vote | Los Angeles Times

Earlier this month, Santa Clarita settled a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, and in doing so became the first city in California to embrace innovative election rules that could point the way to a more representative politics. The lawsuit, filed last year, grew out of major demographic changes in the city. Not only had Santa Clarita grown by more than 60% since 1990; it had also seen a sharp increase in the city’s non-white population, which went from 31% to 44% over a 10-year period, with Latinos now making up almost a third of the city. But as the city’s ethnic composition changed, the makeup of the five-person City Council did not. Today’s council remains entirely Caucasian.

California: Santa Clarita Votes To Settle California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit | KHTS

The city is set to move City Council elections to even-numbered years and employ cumulative voting. The decision was made in closed session before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but it’s not going to affect the ballots that voters will have for the April 8 election, officials said. “The settlement represents an opportunity for all Santa Clarita citizens to have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice — no longer will a bare majority be able to dominate 100 percent of the City Council,” said Kevin Shenkman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. “(Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser) should be commended for their efforts to make that a reality.”

California: Visalia faces California Voting Rights Act lawsuit |

The City of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act and doesn’t have enough Latinos on the city council. Currently Visalia residents vote for their top city council candidates, and whoever gets the most votes is elected. The lawsuit says the city must instead divide itself into districts to give Latinos a voice. A lawsuit filed against the City of Visalia claims in the history of the city, there has only been one Latino council member voted into office, despite Latinos making up 46% of Visalia’s population. It claims the city’s failure to elect council members based on districts is mostly to blame.