Nearly 100 supporters of stronger Latino representation on the Anaheim City Council gathered on the steps of City Hall Wednesday to celebrate a lawsuit settlement that paves the way for a citywide vote on a new electoral system.
The lawsuit, brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, argued that the city's current at large voting system prevents Latino candidates from winning election, as evidenced by the current all-white council.
The result, say activists and ACLU lawyers, is a city government that steers resources to more affluent neighborhoods and elite business interests over the needs of working-class areas of the city.
The solution outlined in the lawsuit and advocated by Latino activists is district elections, which would limit residents’ voting to the geographic areas where council members live. The reasoning goes that majority Latino districts would be guaranteed representatives that respond to their neighborhoods.
“As communities evolve, so too should their policies. And this is what this is all about,” said Jose Moreno, president of the grassroots Latino group Los Amigos of Orange County and a plaintiff in the ACLU suit.
The settlement calls for a proposition on the November ballot that would give voters the opportunity to approve a district elections system. If voters reject the option, the ACLU and Latino activists are back to square one and would have to file a new lawsuit.
Even as they celebrated their victory, Moreno acknowledged that activists would have to mount a strong grassroots campaign to convince voters to change a system that is more than 150 years old. Moreno estimated that it would take some 70,000 votes in favor of the transition for it to pass.
Critics of district elections say that it will balkanize the council and lead to political gridlock as council members battle over steering resources to the areas they represent. They also argue that the system actually limits representation by restricting the ability of voters to cast ballots only for the candidates in their districts.
Some critics also say that the coalition in favor of districts is mostly left on the political spectrum and a ploy by unions to make it easier to elect labor-friendly candidates.
Some conservative residents active at City Hall also attended the rally as well and spoke directly to those arguments.
Conservative blogger Cynthia Ward said the concept of district elections is a conservative idea because it makes for a limited government. She argues current leadership gives away taxpayer money to their campaign financiers in the city’s elite business establishment, a policy of corporate welfare that is anything but conservative, she said.
“This is the most right-wing thing we can do,” Ward said. “It’s the opposite of big government.”
Mayor Tom Tait, a Republican who leans libertarian and has supported district elections since the issue first surfaced last year, also touted district elections at the rally.
“This is good for all people, all ethnicities, all political parties,” Tait said. “This is good for everybody.”