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Voting Rights Act plaintiffs see agreement with city as one step in long road

Posted: March 14, 2014 8:37 p.m.
Updated: March 14, 2014 8:37 p.m.

The plaintiffs who filed suit against Santa Clarita alleging the city’s system of voting violates the California Voting Rights Act issued a statement this week suggesting their settlement agreement with the City Council is just one step in the right direction.

“It is our belief that this is an interim agreement, a provisional step towards our ultimate goal of enforcing the laws of the state of California — the 2002 Voters Rights Act,” reads the statement issued by plaintiffs Rosemarie Sanchez Fraser and Jim Soliz.

Santa Clarita’s city attorney announced an agreement with the plaintiffs at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.
The lawsuit, filed last June, claims the city’s at-large election system is “racially polarized,” with Latino voters supporting candidates of their choice and non-Latino candidates voting against them.

It says the city must address the problem and proposes a system of dividing Santa Clarita into districts, with residents of each district selecting a candidate to represent their area, rather than all voters choosing all five council members.

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

The city’s settlement statement announced Tuesday night outlines a two-pronged plan to deal with alleged biased voting without dividing the city into districts, which the council vehemently opposes.

First, the council would seek to consolidate its elections with county-run November elections that offer statewide races and attract a higher percentage of voters.

Second, the city would consider a system of cumulative voting, whereby residents could cast up to three votes for a single candidate in an election with three council seats open, as the one April 8 will be.

But in their statement, Sanchez Fraser and Soliz said the agreement to consolidated elections was a provisional one, and that cumulative voting was only “reluctantly” agreed to.

Cumulative voting is “a system that we are hardly comfortable with since it has been used by very small communities whose small voting populations experience little demographic influx or outflow of populations,” they wrote in their statement, adding that “Santa Clarita hardly fits this model.”

“We have agreed to the cumulative voting method largely due to our concern (about) possible strategies that might be used by the City Council as it is currently composed,” the statement said. It cites concern that the city might exhaust its treasury fighting the lawsuit.

A similar suit was filed against Palmdale, which lost its case in court but has appealed the decision.

“We frankly question whether the current City Council can make decisions that affect more than 30 percent of the city’s population with an election so close and one City Council member leaving,” Sanchez Fraser and Soliz wrote, adding, “We are also concerned that the historical racial animus of at least one or more of the council members would easily skewer their decision-making process now and in the immediate future.”

The two note that previous efforts by Santa Clarita Valley municipalities to consolidate their elections with county-run balloting has been rejected by the county Board of Supervisors.

“As responsible Latino residents of Santa Clarita, we were also concerned that our complaint might be disruptive of local and national elections within the next few weeks and months,” Sanchez Fraser and Soliz wrote. Besides the looming April 8 City Council elections, voters will cast ballots in state and national June primaries and a November general election this year.

The statement suggests the city has two years to get its act together regarding the issue presented in the lawsuit, during which they “will continue to monitor the support of the proposed settlement’s progress or lack thereof.”

“In event that the cumulative voting method proves to be an ineffective voting rights instrument that has failed to elect a select number of Latino(s) to the City Council,  we will return once again to seek legal compliance by the City Council of the Voters Rights Act,” the statement says.




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