Santa Clarita to fight Voting Rights Act lawsuit

Title: Santa Clarita to fight Voting Rights Act lawsuit
Source: The Santa Clarita Valley Signal
Date: July 10, 2013
By: Lila Littlejohn

The Santa Clarita City Council has voted to fight back over a lawsuit alleging the city’s system for electing council members prevents Latino voters from having full access to the political process.

Following a special meeting Tuesday afternoon, City Attorney Joseph Montes said the council had agreed to “undertake defense” against the suit.

The suit, filed June 26, alleges the city’s at-large elections — which allow all voters in the city to select all five council members — dilutes the votes of Latino residents and denies them “effective political participation,” according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

The elections thus violate the 2001 California Voting Rights Act, the suit claims.

The lawsuit suggests that district-based elections — in which candidates would be elected to represent specific portions of the city — would better serve the will of Latino voters.

“The city had no prior notice of the allegations of a violation of the California Voting Rights Act, or that the action would be be filed,” Montes said in a statement issued Wednesday.

“The city’s legal team will be undertaking an analysis of the complaint, applicable law and relevant data to prepare a responsive pleading,” Montes said.

“That analysis will be presented to the City Council at a future closed session, so we are not at liberty to make any further statement at this time.”

Similar lawsuits were filed against the Santa Clarita Community College District and the Sulphur Springs School District.

According to the filing, Santa Clarita’s system of citywide balloting for council members effectively silences the Latino vote.

As evidence of this, the Los Angeles County Superior Court filing claims that no Latino candidate has been elected to the City Council, despite almost a third of the city’s population being Latino.

The lawsuit also alleges that City Council elections are “racially polarized,” with Latino voters supporting candidates of their choice and non-Latino candidates voting against them.

“Such polarized voting is legally significant in Santa Clarita’s City Council elections because it dilutes the opportunity of Latino voters to elect candidates of their choice,” the lawsuit states.