Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait is questioning whether his city is breaking the law by continuing to have an at large voting system.
“I’m very concerned about that, and I know that other cities that have faced this with the law have all settled,” Tait said during an interview with PBS SoCaL’s David Nazar.
Tait said that those settlements of California Voting Rights Act lawsuits show “that other cities recognized that they were in violation of the law.”
His concern comes amid a debate over Anaheim’s voting system, in which Latino activists are demanding a system of election by districts.
The current council majority has rejected that approach, instead opting for residency requirements for future council candidates.
To force the city to move toward the district model, activists and the American Civil Liberties Union are pursuing a lawsuit alleging that the current at large system disenfranchises the 54 percent of city residents who are Latino.
Councilwoman Kris Murray argued that the council majority’s approach is actually empowering residents.
“We are allowing the citizens [to] decide — that’s the best part,” said Murray. “We’re putting a plan in place that implements [council member residency in] districts immediately and giving them the opportunity to vote on them, to make it a permanent structure change to how we govern in Anaheim.”
ACLU attorney Bardis Vakili calls the council majority’s ballot measure a joke.
“It’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, is what it is. It’s the same system. It doesn’t change the way votes are cast. It doesn’t change the way votes are counted,” said Vakili. “It’s still an at large system, and it still has the same effect on the Latino community.”
Mayor Tait agreed.
“They voted for a system proposed by Council Member Murray that might look like some sort of districting system, … but it’s still an at large system,” said Tait.
Murray took issue with claims that the current voting system disenfranchises Latinos.
“The ACLU doesn’t govern in Anaheim, the City Council does. And we make those decisions for our residents,” said Murray. “We already have a successful track record in our history. As our demographic has changed over the last 20 years, our council has changed with it.”
While more than half of city residents are Latino, none of the council’s five current members are Latino.
Tait said that under the current voting structure, Anaheim’s underserved residents don’t have a real voice in city government.
“I think the way the system is set up with at- arge, no, I don’t think they do,” said Tait.