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UPDATE: Lawsuit against Santa Clarita alleges violations of Voting Rights Act

Posted: July 3, 2013 4:17 p.m.
Updated: July 3, 2013 6:05 p.m.

The city of Santa Clarita has been served with a lawsuit alleging its system for electing City Council members prevents Latino voters from having full access to the political process.

The plaintiffs in the suit are Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, who allege that the city’s at-large method of electing City Council members violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act by diluting the votes of Latino residents and denying them “effective political participation,” according to the complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court.

“An at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election,” according to the language of the California Voting Rights Act.

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 than at-large elections, in which voters throughout the city choose the five council members.

Santa Clarita City Attorney Joe Montes said the city received the lawsuit on June 26 and is still working through its details.

“We haven’t had an opportunity to brief the council yet,” Montes said Wednesday. “Beyond that we have no comment at this time.”

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

As evidence of this, the 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.

The specter of such a lawsuit was raised by local school districts that sought to change their election dates to even-numbered years to consolidate them with citywide elections, thus potentially increasing voter participation.

But that attempt failed to pass the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, who split 2-2-1 on the item. Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich voted in favor of the election date changes.
Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser are being represented by two law firms, Shenkman and Hughes and the R. Rex Parris Law Firm.

The latter, which is headed by current Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris, also became involved in a similar lawsuit alleging Voting Rights Act violations against the city of Palmdale earlier this year.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney


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