Civil rights group to speak on legality of county’s at-large elections, Weds Apr 7

Posted by on Tue, March 30, 2010

A representative of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights will appear at the next meeting of the San Mateo County Charter Review Committee. The LCCR won a decision that at-large elections, such as those for the county’s Board of Supervisors, violated the California Voting Rights Act.

The Madera Unified School District case demonstrates that at-large elections can violate voters’ rights:

An injunction in the case is forcing Madera Unified, which is 82% Latino, to change the way it elects its board.

The decision has already begun to reshape school boards, city councils and special districts throughout California. Dozens of jurisdictions have Latino majorities with few, if any, Latino elected officials—the very conditions that led to the ruling that the Madera district’s electoral system had fostered "racially polarized voting" in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

"I think what we’re looking at is a quiet revolution," said Robert Rubin, an attorney with the San Francisco-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, which brought the Madera case. "I think this will sort of usher in the transfer of power from the Anglo community to the Latino community . . . with fair and equitable voting procedures."

The next meeting of the Charter Review Committee will be:

April 7, 2010
5:30 to 7:30pm
San Mateo Main Library, Oak Room
55 West Third Ave.
San Mateo


“NORWALK — Superior Court Judge Raul Sahagun has dismissed a case of defamation of character filed by three Bellflower City Council members against activist John Drayer, who, the judge said, was using his freedom of speech when he called the officials “racists.”

The comments came last fall when Drayer criticized the city for it’s at-large elections, saying voting by council districts, as in neighboring Downey, would give minority residents a better chance for election to the City Council.

Drayer’s attorney, Lawrence R. Young of the Downey law firm of Lawrence Young and Associates, successfully argued that under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute, public officials may not sue for defamation of character against a person who has criticized them regarding their actions or opinions on public issues.

The attorney said he believes in Drayer’s efforts, adding the lack of voting power in Bellflower under at-large elections “is scandalous.”

Bellflower officials have said the at-large elections, conducted in most area cities, are fair.”

The court also awarded Drayer attorney fees and court costs, to be paid by the council members.


“California Voting Rights Act”

good step in the right direction. next stop: we get California out of the 19th century and adopt the Congressional District Methodology at a minimum… until then, it’s a farce and in the pockets of the DNC. talk about underrepresentation…

Kevin, I agree that the Electoral College is a disaster. But, unless most states adopt the solution at the same time as California, it would unduly advantage the Republicans.

One solution to this standoff is the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact. It was passed both houses of the California legislature before being vetoed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger:

If winner-take-all is unfair at the state level, it’s just as unfair at the congressional district level; you’re just disenfranchising a different set of voters.

The NPV looks like the best shot we have at a solution, barring a constitutional amendment.

Speaking of winner-take-all, I’ve been working on a new website aimed at education on the subject of proportional representation. It’s a work in progress, but I invite you to have a look:

Barry… “advantage the GOP” vs “more equitable for the GOP” we can debate til the cows come home. What if just Texas did it? When Californian representation is unfavorable, and if you consider any swing towards equity as an “advantage”...  we need to agree/disagree here. States have the power. What I do know, and assume you would agree upon, neither party provides the deserved attention towards our sullen state of California. One has the vote locked, so they don’t need to bother, and the other doesn’t stand a chance, so why bother. Jonathan, you are right, but I’ll take the baby steps. The arguments FOR the electoral system get more antiquated by the decade. Redistricting alone should be mandatory, not debatable on grounds of ‘advantageousness’.

Back to local civics… there are fundamental arguments against at-large elections/seats, but what I’m seeing here with “Civil rights” and the proverbial race card being thrown out. A shame to use it here. I see the above and only see the yearly bonus of law firm partners are safe.

The argument is much stronger on a quantifiable level, vs. qualitative level. In other words, it’s in the numbers not the sociological. So it’s shame to continue to see the race-card continue on it’s path of dilution. Anglo vs. Latino. Oh brother. I think I know more mixed-race than monochromatic race these days, anyways. Means to an end, I suppose.

Per the coastside representation (maybe the lawyers can surely find some race card in there, too). I see improvements on what is being proposed, but did the rough math. Under the current system, we get about 3-5% effective population representation (our population vs the ‘at-large’), under the within-the-district schema, we move up to 15% representation. [these are very rough, but close enough for proof-of-concept]. Better than nothing. However, let’s be honest and also look at “economic representation” as any/every coastal candidate could end up competing in lil’ ol’ district 3 with a citizen from one of the most affluent neighborhoods in the country, much less California/San Mateo County.

I would support proportional distribution of electoral votes only if it were done in such a way that the outcome of the next election would reflect the popular vote. That’s the whole point of the exercise.

No one’s playing the “race card”. The argument is legal, not racial. You mention Anglo vs. Latino.  You might also want to note that there are no Asians on the board of supervisors. How’d that happen?

Regarding the Coastside’s share of any proposed district, that’s not an argument against district elections. Ideally, there would be more than five districts. But district elections are superior even if that number is not increased.

Kevin Barron (AKA Armchair Quarterback),

You have written about the “race card” on more than one occasion and I’m wondering if you have issues with people who are not of your race? 

People I consider extremely racist frequently reference the “race card”.  Are you a fan of Rush Limbaugh?

People of color file suit over selection of San Mateo County Board of Supervisors:  San Mateo Public Policy Examiner . By Bruce Balshone

Link to article:

San Mateo County officials today released a letter (see pages 23-24) from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, a San Francisco-based civil rights legal foundation, informing the County that the civil rights organization may file a lawsuit against the County for potential violations of the California Voting Rights Act due to the County’s use of at-large elections for San Mateo County Supervisors.

The letter, signed by the organization’s legal director Robert Rubin, states:

“Our research shows that in the history of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, only two members of the protected class have been elected to this Board, one of whom was appointed prior to her election. According to recent data, the overall percentage of minority citizen voting age population in San Mateo [County] is 44.64%. Given the significant number of minority citizen voting age residents, we believe that the county’s use of an at-large election system dilutes the vote of minority residents.”

The letter concludes:

“Given the historical lack of minority representation on the Board of Supervisors in the context of racially polarized elections, we again urge San Mateo [County] to voluntarily change its at-large system of electing board members. Otherwise, on behalf of the residents within the county, we will be forced to seek judicial relief. Please advise us no later than April 30th, 2010 as to whether you would like to discuss a voluntary change to your current at-large system.”