Prominent state and national Latino groups have accused the Anaheim City Council of blatantly violating the federal Voting Rights Act when it decided last month to exclude the city’s only Latino majority council district in next year’s general election.
In a Dec. 3 letter to Mayor Tom Tait, the California League of United Latin American Citizens (CA LULAC) and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) wrote that the council’s vote “evinces a discriminatory intent to deprive Latino voters of their ability to elect candidates of their choice, in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the [federal Voting Rights Act.]”
Anaheim is transitioning from at-large council elections to a system whereby council members are elected by districts. The switch is happening because the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and Latino activists sued the city in 2012, alleging that at-large voting prevented the city’s Latino majority from electing their candidates of choice and violated the California Voting Rights Act.
To settle the suit, city leaders agreed to end at-large voting and carve the city into districts. The reasoning goes that residents in majority Latino districts would be better able to elect candidates of their choice when not competing with voters from more affluent, white neighborhoods like Anaheim Hills.
The approved districts map has two Latino plurality districts – wherein the Latino citizen voting age population is the largest but doesn’t reach over 50 percent of the district – and one district with a Latino citizen voting age population that is over 50 percent.
In a split 3-2 vote on Nov. 17, the council decided to put the two Latino plurality districts up for election, but excluded the only Latino majority district. They said that the Latino majority district already has representation because Councilman James Vanderbilt, who is half-Latino, lives in the district. They also claimed that the district has in the past been well represented because former council members have resided there.
Although the letter was addressed to Tait, he and Vanderbilt voted against excluding the district. Council members Kris Murray, Lucille Kring and Jordan Brandman cast the majority vote.
Last month, the Orange County Democratic Party’s central committee unanimously condemned Jordan Brandman, a who is a Democrat, for voting with the council majority.
MALDEF states in its letter than the council majority’s reasoning is faulty, and that the vote placed the city in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act, which is separate from the state law by the same name. According to the letter, the federal law “prohibits the use of any practice that is either intended to, or results in, the denial or abridgement of the right to vote based on race, color, or membership in a language minority.”
The Latino groups urged the council to reverse its vote – a second and final reading takes place at next Tuesday’s council meeting – “to avoid costly litigation.”