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Lancaster weighs voting options at town hall

Residents discuss changing city council election system — the same kind Santa Clarita faces lawsuit

Posted: August 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: August 7, 2013 2:00 a.m.

LANCASTER — The possibility of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit was the center of a town hall discussion in Lancaster Tuesday night, where residents and members of a city committee discussed ways to avoid the kind of litigation that has been filed against both the city of Palmdale and the city of Santa Clarita.

The meeting was held by the Lancaster election policy committee, a body charged with examining how or if to change Lancaster’s current method of electing city council members.

Lancaster, like Santa Clarita and Palmdale, uses an at-large election system, where residents can vote for all seats up for election, not just one tied to where in the city they live.

Lawsuits filed in and outside the Santa Clarita Valley have alleged that these election systems violate the 2001 California Voting Rights Act by preventing minority voters from electing candidates of their choice and that other systems, such as district-based elections, would better suit the will of minority voters.

The lawsuits also allege that there is the presence of racially polarized voting, with minority citizens supporting candidates of their choice and voters in the rest of the electorate voting against them.

Xavier Flores, a representative of the Antelope Valley League of United Latin American Citizens, said the presence of racially polarized voting in Lancaster is clear and that the city should examine a move to district-based elections.

“We do know that for Latinos the biggest obstacle to our electoral voice is at-large elections,” he said. “That’s the fundamental truth.”

Other speakers, like longtime Lancaster resident Cesar Vega Magallon, said districts should not just be examined for racial reasons, but for social and economic ones as well.

“It’s not always that Latinos just want to vote for a Latino candidate,” he said. “Latinos want a candidate that, above all else, represents the Latino viewpoint.”

Other speakers said Lancaster should examine changing its election dates to align them with county-run elections in an attempt to increase voter turnout.

School districts in the Santa Clarita Valley, along with the Newhall County Water District, made such an attempt earlier this year, but were not able to get the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to sign off on the move.

Election policy committee member Steven Derryberry said he thinks Lancaster should collect demographic data to determine whether districts could be implemented effectively in the city.

“I think a lot of this conversation is incredibly premature until we find out what the statistics are,” he said.

Commission member Ed Galindo agreed with the sentiment.

“Whatever it is going to cost us to get these statistics is going to be far less than the cost of getting hit with one of these lawsuits,” he said.

Plaintiffs in the cases against Palmdale and agencies in the Santa Clarita Valley are represented by the Malibu firm Shenkman & Hughes and the law firm of R. Rex Parris, the current mayor of Lancaster.
On Twitter @LukeMMoney


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