Superior Court Judge Postpones Anaheim Elections Lawsuit

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An Orange County Superior Court judge Thursday postponed until July 30 his decision regarding a case alleging that Anaheim’s election system violates the California Voting Rights Act, saying he wanted to wait until the City Council makes a final vote on changes to the system.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Latino activists, asserts that the city’s at large election system denies Latinos representation on the City Council by blocking them from electing their favored candidates.

Anaheim is 53 percent Latino, but its current, five-member council is all white. Latino activists have proposed a district elections system, whereby council members would be elected by district rather than at-large, which would give Latinos better representation on the City Council.

The city had asked Judge Franz E. Miller in April for a stay of the court proceedings until the council, advised by a citizens committee, devised a legislative proposal that could remedy the lawsuit’s complaint. Miller agreed and granted the city’s request.

Although the citizens advisory committee recommended that district elections be placed on the June 2014 ballot, the City Council rejected that recommendation and instead approved districts that require candidates to live in districts but be elected at large. Advisory committee members who favored the residency requirement accused other committee members of hijacking the recommendation process.

Voters will decide next year whether to amend the city charter to include the residency requirement and to increase the council size to six council members and a mayor.

But the vote isn’t necessary to implement the residency requirement, which the council approved by ordinance last week. Miller postponed the court hearing to July 30, because the ordinance still faces a final vote July 23.

Attorneys on both sides argued briefly over whether the city’s proposed changes substantially satisfy the lawsuit’s complaint.

The city’s stance is that the election system change is substantial, because, for example, if there is only one candidate running in a district it is an automatic election.

Marguerite Mary Leoni, an attorney with Nielsen Merksamer Parrinello Gross & Leoni making arguments on behalf of the city, said that the city will be filing a motion to dismiss the case and for a stay of the court proceedings to give the new system a chance before it’s presumed to be discriminatory.

“It is a fundamentally different system for the city of Anaheim,” Leoni said.

ACLU attorney Robert Ruben said the new system’s at large elections are identical to the previous system, the only difference being the qualifications of the candidates.

“The winner take all system will dilute the vote of the minority,” Ruben said. “That is indisputable.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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