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City Attorney: CVRA case against Santa Clarita ‘over’

Posted: February 24, 2016 6:15 p.m.
Updated: February 24, 2016 6:15 p.m.
Santa Clarita has officially closed its books on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed in 2013, retaining its system of voting that allows all registered voters in the city to cast ballots for all City Council seats up for grabs. Santa Clarita has officially closed its books on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed in 2013, retaining its system of voting that allows all registered voters in the city to cast ballots for all City Council seats up for grabs.
Santa Clarita has officially closed its books on the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed in 2013, retaining its system of voting that allows all registered voters in the city to cast ballots for all City Council seats up for grabs.
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It took more than two years, a scrubbed move to a new voting system, a change in election dates and about $1.2 million, but the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit against Santa Clarita is officially over, the city attorney said this week.

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge entered an official judgment on the case Jan. 8 and “basically affirmed the terms” of a settlement agreement the city had already inked with the plaintiffs, said City Attorney Joe Montes.

“Barring an appeal, that case is over,” Montes said at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

Two Santa Clarita residents, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser, filed suit against the city in June 2013 alleging its election system, which allows all the city’s registered voters to cast ballots for all open City Council seats, violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

Their lawsuit claimed the balloting system diluted the votes of Latino residents and denied them “effective political participation.” Similar suits were filed against College of the Canyons, Sulphur Springs School District and Saugus Union School District.

As part of the city’s settlement of the lawsuit, Santa Clarita’s City Council elections will be held in November, not April, of even-numbered years starting this year.

Santa Clarita was also required to pay about $600,000 as a settlement to the plaintiffs. Montes said Wednesday that amount has already been paid.

The city also racked up about $650,000 in attorneys’ fees — including special counsel and experts — as a result of the lawsuit, bringing the total bill to just north of $1.2 million.

Plaintiffs initially sought to force the city to adopt voting districts — a system in which voters would be divided into different areas, each tied to one seat on the City Council.

Voters in such a system would only be able to vote for one council member, as opposed to being able to vote for all of them.

When the city was first formed in 1987, about 59 percent of residents chose the current voting system over by-district elections.

Per the terms of the settlement agreement, announced in March 2014, the city agreed to investigate moving to a completely different system entirely: cumulative voting.

Cumulative voting would have made it possible to vote multiple times for the same candidate, which proponents said would boost the electoral power of minority voters.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Terry A. Green initially OK’d the move, but reversed course last September after the California Secretary of State’s office questioned whether cumulative voting was legal in the state.

Green’s later ruling freed the city from having to implement cumulative voting, according to Montes.

An attorney for the plaintiffs could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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