PBS: Emotions High in Anaheim Over Voting Rights Suit

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A March 17 trial date has been set for a lawsuit alleging that Anaheim’s at-large election system disenfranchises Latinos, more than half of the city’s population.

In particular, the suit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and local Latino activists last summer, asserts that electing council members at large instead of by districts violates the California Voting Rights Act.

In the wake of efforts last year to shift to district-based voting, the council formed a citizens advisory committee that ultimately recommended the council districts approach.

The council majority rejected that recommendation and instead approved residency-based districts where council candidates live within certain districts but are still elected at large.

Members of the council majority say they’ve responded to the will of the people.

“We have truly taken decisive action to implement residency-based districts,” said Councilwoman Kris Murray, adding that voters will decide next year whether to increase the size of the council and ratify residency-based districts.

The ACLU, meanwhile, said the residency-based district system still doesn’t fix the problem.

“The City Council will still be elected at large.  In fact, the situation will be worse, because in the previous system, in order for the Latino candidate of choice to be elected, they’d have to come in the top two,” said ACLU attorney Bardis Vakili.

“Now in a residency system you have to come in first place in your residency ward.”

The council majority meanwhile insisted that they have a tremendous history of working with all the community and that by fighting the suit, they’re making the best decision for the welfare of their residents.

“Cities are sued, municipalities are sued. We have an obligation to represent the city and to present our best case, and to govern on behalf of all residents,” said Murray. “And that’s what we’re doing.”

The segment aired this week on PBS SoCaL’s “Real Orange.” Click the video above to see the full report.

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