Alleging that the City of Anaheim’s at-large method of electing its City Council dilutes the voting rights of Latino citizens and deprives Anaheim’s majority-Latino population of the opportunity to elect representatives of their choice, GBDH filed suit against Anaheim under the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) on June 28, 2012. GBDH’s co-counsel in the case is the ACLU of Southern California; in addition, we are working with a strong coalition of community groups in Anaheim and Orange County that supports the lawsuit and the change from at-large to district elections as a badly needed reform.
The complaint, filed in Orange County Superior Court, alleges that the following facts, which constitute a CVRA violation. Anaheim elects its mayor and four City Council members at large, that is, all voters in the City vote for all candidates, and there are no restrictions on which areas or parts of the City members of the governing body must reside in or represent. Voting in Anaheim elections is racially polarized, that is, the voting preferences of Latino voters (a large minority of the electorate) are different from those of non-Latino voters (the controlling majority of the electorate) and non-Latino voters do not support candidates and positions favored by Latinos. Under the at-large election system, this means that non-Latino voters effectively control and decide the outcome of elections for all seats on the City Council, and Latino voters are unable to elect even some candidates preferred by Latinos. In addition to the polarized voting patterns evident in Anaheim elections, Latinos’ voting strength is further diluted by the effects of large disparities in wealth, educational levels, and socio-economic well-being, and access to institutions of authority in Anaheim; and by the effects of a decades-long history of discrimination against Latinos and persons perceived as being from immigrant communities, including harassment and intimidation of Latino voters as well as discriminatory police practices, land use policies, and public resource allocations.
As a result of these discriminatory and vote-diluting conditions, none of the five members of Anaheim’s City Council are Latinos at present; and only three individual Latinos have ever served on the Council in the past 20 years (and very few, if any, before then). This under-representation of Latinos on the Council is in stark contrast to the composition of Anaheim’s population, which is over 50% Latino, and its potential electorate of citizen voting age population (CVAP), which stands at approximately 32%. Non-Latino white residents constitute only 27.5% of the City’s population, but four of the five current Council members are white, and historically the large majority of members of the City’s governing body have been white. Equally striking, four of the five current Council members are from the Anaheim Hills section of the City, which contains a small minority of Anaheim’s total population and is geographically distinct, wealthier, more influential, and far more heavily white than the rest of the City; and historically Anaheim Hills and its residents have long dominated the election process and supplied most of the City’s governing board members. Under-representation of Latinos also marks the composition of boards and commissions whose members are appointed by the City Council, and who provide important guidance and recommendations to the City in such areas as land use planning, safety and security, parks and recreation, resident services, and others.
In short, in Anaheim Latinos form the majority of the governed, but have little choice in choosing their governors. That is anti-democratic as well as unlawful under the CVRA.
The lawsuit seeks an order from the court requiring the City of Anaheim to change its election system for City Council from at-large to by district, and further demands that the district lines in that new system be drawn in a fair and non-discriminatory way. It also seeks an award of litigation costs and attorney’s fees incurred by plaintiffs and their lawyers in bringing the case.
Three plaintiffs, our clients, have brought the case. They are Jose Moreno, a well respected faculty member at Long Beach State and a member of the Anaheim City School District’s Board; Amin David, a businessman who has maintained his business and residence in Anaheim for many years; and Consuelo Garcia, a long-time public elementary school teacher in Anaheim. All of the plaintiffs are Latino registered voters in Anaheim, have long been active in public service and community organizations in Anaheim and Orange County.
For more information about the case, click on the link to the complaint filed with the Superior Court or read the press release and media materials released on the day the complaint was filed. Lead attorneys on the case for our firm are Morris J. Baller and Laura Ho.