The Voting Rights Act and City Council Elections

Currently, several large cities in California are facing political and legal challenges to the way they conduct city council elections. These cities have “at-large” elections meaning that voters cast ballots for the whole city, not by individual districts. Many believe “at-large” voting disenfranchises minority groups as well as contributing to the high cost for an individual to run against an incumbent.  In Southern California these cities include Whittier, Santa Clarita, Palmdale and Anaheim, among others.

Many SEIU 721 members live or work in a city with at-large elections and that’s one of the reasons this issue is important.  In a lot of these cities, activists are taking the next step to ensure more transparency and inclusiveness by pushing for a system of elections by district instead of “at-large” either in the courts or with an election by the impacted community.
Because of the Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act it is now easier for minority groups to sue governments that use at-large elections on the grounds that they dilute the strength of minority votes. In Sacramento, legislators are will be voting on legislation that would require all California cities (excluding Charter Cities) of a population with at least 100,000 to move to district elections. SEIU hasn’t taken a position on these lawsuits or the legislation but we are very Dogs_Pleasevote_Cropped.jpgsupportive of governing bodies being responsive and representational of the community they are serving. We also know that every vote makes a difference in off year or special elections and often cities hold their elections in off years. Remember, every vote counts and in several recent elections less than 10% of the voters turned out. Whittier residents have an opportunity to vote on an initiative for district elections in their city and there are two SEIU endorsed candidates with April 8th elections. In Long Beach – Rex Richardson and in La Puente – Valerie Munoz have both received endorsements for city council races.
If you would like to read more about these lawsuits and the push for more equal representation, you can learn more by linking to the following articles:
Whittier schedules a vote on district elections.  
Judge refuses to halt Latino Voting Rights lawsuit in Whittier.
Santa Clarita has a unique settlement to their lawsuit but it’s still pending approval.
Anaheim settles voting rights lawsuit. 
Palmdale ordered to have district elections.