The ongoing controversy surrounding the map for Anaheim's newly formed City Council districts took yet another unexpected turn last week, with city officials asserting that as of recent Census estimates the so-called “People’s Map” no longer includes a single Latino majority district.
The revelation comes just as the council is expected to cast its final vote to adopt the map Tuesday night. With this latest twist, it’s possible the council majority will once again toss out a districts map supported by hundreds of city activists and residents.
The map is a product of a lawsuit filed in 2012, which alleged that the city council's at-large electoral system violated California's Voting Rights Act because it did not allow Latinos, who make up 53 percent of the city's population, to elect their candidates of choice.
The city settled the lawsuit by putting a measure calling for the implementation of a council-districts system before voters on the 2014 ballot. A panel of judges recommended the "people's map" after a series of hearings.
The map included a Latino majority district, which meant that citizen voting age Latinos make up more than 50 percent of the district's population; and two Latino plurality districts, which means that citizen voting age Latinos outnumber other groups in the district, but don't make up more than 50 percent of its population.
The map was so popular with city residents that it earned the "People's Map" moniker. But in November another battle erupted when the council majority decided that the only Latino majority district would have to wait until 2018 to elect a council member, while other districts would be up for election this year.
Activists were outraged and accused the council majority of a racist intent to deny Latinos representation on the council.
Instead of allowing the district to hold its election this year, Councilman Jordan Brandman concluded that the map itself was the problem because it only had one Latino majority district. He and the council majority scrapped the map and restarted the map selection process.
In response, hundreds of activists showed up to the Dec. 8 council meeting and shouted down council members until Mayor Tom Tait was forced to prematurely adjourn the meeting. After activists escalated their pressure further, the council majority flipped again and voted to restore the People’s Map.
But it takes three votes to finalize the decision, and the third vote is expected to be cast Tuesday night. A staff report posted with the council meeting agenda revealed that city officials’ new estimate of citizen voting age Latinos in what was the only Latino majority district has dropped to 49.1 percent, which is a 1.7 percent dip. The tabulation is based on U.S. Census figures updated this year.
Ada Briceño, interim executive director with Orange County Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), which has strongly backed the map, says her group’s position hasn’t changed.
Briceño says Latinos registered to vote are over 50 percent of the district, and with a substantially Latino district, that figure is expected to rise.
“This is truly the first time Latinos can elect the candidate of their choice, and that’s going to move registered Latino voters up,” Briceno said.
David Ely, a demographics mapping expert with Compass Demographics who worked on draft maps earlier in the process, said if the number of registered Latino voters is over 50 percent, then that’s likely a more reliable number than the city’s estimate based on U.S. Census figures. But he emphasized that the reliability in both cases depends on how the city calculated the estimates.
The city staff report doesn’t disclose how the estimates were calculated.
In any case, Ely says that from a practical standpoint, the fluctuation is minor and doesn’t have much real impact. But, he said, it could lead to another federal Voting Rights Act suit.
“I don’t think the fluctuation around 50 percent is terribly significant from a data standpoint. The data always shifts from year to year,” Ely said. “It could be quite significant if someone is considering challenging it in federal court because the 50 percent is considered sort of a bright line test.”
The group most likely to file such a challenge would be the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF), which previosuly threatened to sue the city for not allowing the district to elect a council member in 2016.
Briceño said she’s spoken with a MALDEF representative that assured her the group hasn’t changed its position since it sent a representative to a council meeting in support of the activists’ position on the map.
But Ely said if the council districts don’t elect council members who are favored by Latino voters, then a voting rights group supporting the map now could change its mind and file a suit challenging the map.
The city’s demographer will likely be at tonight’s council meeting to answer questions about the change.