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Voting Rights Act forum sparks questions, discussion

Posted: August 30, 2013 5:51 p.m.
Updated: August 30, 2013 5:51 p.m.

SANTA CLARITA - A lawyer involved in California Voting Rights Act lawsuits against municipal governments in the Santa Clarita Valley was one of about 30 people who joined in a forum-style discussion on the content and implications of the Voting Rights Act this week in Canyon Country.

The forum was meant to inspire discussion and inform attendees, said Minerva Williams, president of the Democratic Club of the Santa Clarita Valley, which organized the Thursday night event.

One of the attendees was Kevin Shenkman, a lawyer at the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes that is involved in California Voting Rights Act lawsuits against the city of Santa Clarita, Santa Clarita Community College District and Sulphur Springs School District.

“The law is the law,” he said Thursday. “And they’re violating the law.”

The three suits alleging that at-large election systems — in which people can cast votes for all open seats on the ballot, not just one tied to where they live — violate the Voting Rights Act by preventing Latinos from electing candidates of their choice.

Shenkman is representing plaintiffs in all three of those lawsuits. Officials from Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Community College District have told The Signal they plan to contest the lawsuits.

Shenkman’s firm is also representing plaintiffs against the city of Palmdale in a similar case.

Earlier this summer, a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled against the city of Palmdale, determining its at-large elections led to racially polarized voting, with minority voters casting ballots for candidates of their choice and the rest of the electorate voting otherwise.

Darren W. Parker, the chairman of the African-American Caucus of the California Democratic Party, pointed to that lawsuit as a reason why Palmdale’s November elections are seeing far more interested candidates than in years past.

Berta Gonzalez-Harper, a longtime Canyon Country resident and candidate for Santa Clarita City Council in 2014, said she thinks moving to district-based elections would deprive Santa Clarita voters. Currently, she says, she has the ability to vote for all five council members, not just one.

“I don’t see how this would benefit me,” she said.

Gonzalez-Harper also noted the city voted to have at-large elections when it was first incorporated in 1987.
Some, however, said the city has changed since then.

“I think this frames a discussion that the city is changing,” said Alan Ferdman, a longtime resident of Canyon Country and candidate for City Council in 2014.

“And as the city changes it is not unreasonable for the electoral structure of the city to change,” he said.
On Twitter @lukeMMoney




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