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School District's Voting Rights Called Into Question

From guest blogger Alyssa Morones

Latinos make up 42 percent of ABC Unified School District, located in Southeastern Los Angeles County. They are the largest ethnic demographic in the 30-school district, but the last time a Latino was elected to the seven member board was in 1997. Now, a lawsuit is calling into question the district's at-large electoral system for illegally diluting Latinos' voting clout, reports the Los Angeles Times.

The district is now facing a lawsuit that argues that the at-large electoral system the district uses to elect its board members illegally obstructs Latinos' voting clout and hinders their path to elective office. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a national Latino legal civil rights organization, worked with the Los Angeles law firm of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho to file the suit.

Thomas A. Saenz, the president of MALDEF, said in a statement, "With the growing Latino student population nationwide, it is particularly important that our democratic processes work to secure adequate opportunity for the Latino community to elect its representatives to participate in school governance."

The district includes Artesia, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, and parts of Lakewood, Long Beach, and Norwalk. With the at-large system in place, all residents vote on candidates that can run from any part of the district. At present, the board is composed solely of Cerritos residents. Three board members are Asian, two are white, two are Filipino.

The lawsuit argues that school board voting is racially polarized. It would require the district to move to an electoral system wherein board members would be elected to represent specific areas of the district.

Superintendent Mary Sieu said to the LA Times that, based on a district analysis of the four board elections from 2003 to 2009, the district did not violate the California Voting Rights Act. Rather, the analysis concluded that voters did not vote for candidates for the sole reason of their shared ethnic background.

This 2001 act has resulted in a multitude of lawsuits across California. An increasing number of the state's districts are opting to switch from at-large elections to trustee or district elections (where candidates are elected by residents of their area to represent that area) in order to pre-empt any possible law suits.

Districts in other states have faced similar suits, founded on the 1965 Voting Rights Act, but California's voting-rights law has less stringent requirements to prove discriminatory voting practices. Unlike the federal act, the California law does not require proof that redistricting based on majority-minority subdistricts would correct polarized voting in at-large elections.

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