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 Voting Rights Act
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: Injunction sought that would freeze switch to voting by district | The San Diego Union-Tribune
A movement to change the way Californians elect their local officials, one that is costing millions of dollars to implement, may find itself in legal limbo. A federal court judge in San Diego is being asked to issue a preliminary injunction that could halt changes being made, under threat of legal action, by dozens of cities, school districts and other agencies statewide in the way they elect their representatives. Last month, former Poway Mayor Don Higginson, being represented by a conservative Washington, D.C. think tank and law firm, filed a lawsuit against the state and Poway challenging the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
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.
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.
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.
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.