Voting Rights Act Leading California Cities to Dump At-Large Elections

Jean Merl, Los Angeles Times, September 14, 2013

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.

“We’re seeing easily the biggest shift” since the Progressives ushered in at-large elections nearly a century ago, said Douglas Johnson, president of the research firm National Demographics Corp. and a fellow at the Rose Institute of State and Local Government at Claremont McKenna College.

California’s counties and most of its largest cities, including Los Angeles, San Diego and Long Beach, elect council members by geographic district. But in scores of other towns, voters get a say about everyone on the ballot—which, advocates of such at-large systems say, provides better accountability and less balkanization.

Johnson said the voting rights law is overly broad and vague: “It offers very little guidance, and a lot of districts are changing just to avoid lawsuits.”

But cities have been more reluctant.

Compton, with a majority Latino population and a mostly African American power structure, switched to geographic representation only after a lawsuit settlement. So did Escondido. Palmdale, which lost a lawsuit in July, has vowed to appeal. Anaheim, facing a trial, tried in vain to appease plaintiffs by requiring that candidates live in designated districts, although they still would be elected at large.

Whittier, sued last month by Latino activists who said they had tried for years to get representation on that city’s council, will ask voters to settle the matter in a special election in June. {snip}

No one has done a comprehensive study of the voting rights law’s effect, experts say, and it is unclear how much difference a switch in formats makes for minority candidates.

But no local government has won a state voting rights lawsuit, and jurisdictions that can’t demonstrate fair treatment of minorities in at-large election systems must pay plaintiffs’ legal fees, said consultant Paul Mitchell, whose Sacramento-based Redistricting Partners has helped several local governments make the change.

Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford said the state’s voting rights law has prompted a “money grab” by lawyers. He said he can’t explain why Palmdale, whose population is almost 55% Latino and nearly 15% black, has elected only one Latino and no African Americans to its council.

“We go for the best and brightest,” Ledford told The Times after a judge found his city in violation of the law. “I can’t speak for the message of the candidates or their ability to raise the funds to run.”


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  • APaige

    Let the corruption begin! Hispanics leading Hispanics…what could go wrong?…Mexico.

  • HJ11

    The way to stop this is to gentrify neighborhoods so the White haters have a hard time gerrymandering votiing districts full of non-whites.

  • bigone4u

    More minority representation will push California under that much more quickly. If Detroit scares you, wait until you see an entire state in an advanced state of decay and financial ruin.

    • MBlanc46

      And not just any state, but the largest state in the nation by population, and one which, until very recently was seen to be almost a paradise.

      • IstvanIN

        From paradise to h#llhole in less than one lifetime. Glad I stayed in NJ.

        • MBlanc46

          The fall has been spectacular.

  • Spartacus

    This multi-kulti thing gets better every day, doesn’t it ?

  • joesolargenius

    I guarantee you that by 2030 California will be the most violent state in America far surpassing Detroit or Chicago. I see nothing of what once was except in a few small coastal towns and so stopped going there.

  • White Mom in WDC

    Pray for an earthquake

  • Libs are We Todd Ed

    Great, elect more blax and Hispanics and see how that works for you.

  • Homo_Occidentalis

    It’s just a fire sale. America’s elite can’t give the nation away fast enough.

    But in scores of other towns, voters get a say about everyone on the
    ballot—which, advocates of such at-large systems say, provides better
    accountability and less balkanization.

    The time to avoid balkanization was 50 years ago. It’s already here. There’s nothing California’s smarmy liberals can do about it now. On the bright side, once every Mexican is safely within U.S. borders, white Americans can invade a depopulated Mexico.

  • MikeofAges

    Don’t say it so loud. Someone might hear you.