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Cumulative voting heads to court

Posted: July 25, 2014 5:22 p.m.
Updated: July 25, 2014 5:22 p.m.
 

Whether the city of Santa Clarita can employ a relatively unknown voting system to settle its California Voting Rights Act lawsuit is set to be decided in court.

A hearing is scheduled Sept. 8 in Los Angeles County Superior Court to determine if Santa Clarita can adopt a cumulative voting system as part of its settlement of a lawsuit alleging its current election system violates the California Voting Rights Act by diluting the electoral power of minorities, according to Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes.

Under the current at-large voting system, voters get as many votes as there are seats up for election in a given year, but they may cast only one vote per candidate.

Under cumulative voting, they could cast all of their votes for a single candidate.

In legal briefs on the matter, the city’s attorneys argue that, as a general law city, Santa Clarita is limited by state law in the types of changes it can make to its election system.

“The fact that cumulative voting is not expressly permitted by state law, therefore, means it is prohibited for general law cities like Santa Clarita,” one brief reads.

Kevin Shenkman, a lawyer with the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes — which represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the city, said there is nothing in state law that prevents adopting a cumulative voting system.

“Nothing in California law prohibits cumulative voting in any way, even outside of the context of a voting rights case,” Shenkman said Friday.

He also pointed out that cumulative voting has been used as a remedy to settle cases brought elsewhere under the federal Voting Rights Act.

In their legal briefs, city attorneys write that federal law typically defers to state law on matters such as elections.

The California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed against Santa Clarita last year alleged the city’s current at-large voting system violated the California Voting Rights Act by preventing Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice.

Santa Clarita officials agreed to switch the election dates for the City Council to November of even-numbered years and to examine the possibility of cumulative voting to settle the lawsuit.

As part of that agreement, the question of whether cumulative voting can be adopted as part of a settlement of a Voting Rights Act lawsuit has to undergo legal review.

Whatever way the matter is decided could affect other agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley.

The Santa Clarita Community College District faced a similar lawsuit to the city’s and agreed to settle its suit by agreeing to switch its election dates to November of even-numbered years and adopt cumulative voting.

The Newhall School District has also indicated it will switch its elections to even-numbered years and adopt cumulative voting — if those moves are deemed legal.

Two other local school districts — the Sulphur Springs School District and the William S. Hart Union High School District — have decided to switch to by-district elections for their governing boards.

Lmoney@signalscv.com
661-287-5525
On Twitter @LukeMMoney

 

 

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