SVREP Launches CVRA Organizing Program

Are Latin@s' Voting Rights Being Denied in Your Community in California? If so, SVREP wants to know...

Take the "Latin@ Voting Rights Denied" Test Below:

  1. Do Latinos comprise a large part of your local (city, school, community college, or special district) population?
  2. Are your local governmental officials elected "at-large"?
  3. Have Latinos/as regularly run for your local city council, school board elections, and special districts and lost
  4. Do you currently have one or fewer Latin@ elected official on your city council or school board?

If you answered yes to these four (4) questions, then SVREP wants to talk to you about using the California Voting Rights Act to enable Latino voters to elect "candidates of choice."

Please use the form below to submit your contact information and SVREP will follow up with you.

Introduction: CVRA and SVREP

In October-November of 2015 the William C. Velasquez Institute (WCVI), conducted demographic and voter file research and identified hundreds of CA municipalities and school districts that were in apparent violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CRVA).

For more information about CRVA, click the following link.

Following WCVI's research, the law firm of Shenkman & Hughes sent demand letters on behalf of plaintiff Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) to nine municipalities in December of 2015.

During 2016 SVREP conducted nonpartisan voter registration and voter education activities in three of these cities: Costa Mesa, San Juan Capistrano and Rancho Cucamonga.

SVREP CVRA Progress Report

SVREP is pleased to report the following progress on our CVRA initiative as of Jan 2017:

    Orange County

  1. Costa Mesa (Orange County) held a referendum on converting to district elections in Nov. 2016; Voters approved the proposal to split the city into six districts and the first district elections will be held in 2018;
    • "A Malibu-based law firm has threatened to file a voting-rights lawsuit against Costa Mesa unless the city scraps its at-large election system, according to a letter obtained by the Daily Pilot this week. Costa Mesa city officials said they're still weighing the best way to move forward after receiving the letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman of the firm Shenkman & Hughes, which has been involved in several similar lawsuits in Southern California. In his letter, Shenkman claims that at-large voting in Costa Mesa — in which City Council members are elected by a vote of the whole city rather than by district — violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by diluting the ability of local Latino residents ‘to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Costa Mesa's council elections.'" Read More Click Here
  2. San Juan Capistrano (Orange County) agreed to convert to district elections. SJC held its first municipal district elections in Nov. 2016. Notably, in the first district elections Latin@ activist, Sergio Farias, was elected, after being unsuccessful in 2008 under the previous at-large election system. A second Latin@-influence district will be up in 2018.
    • "In District 1, Farias received 58.3 percent of the vote (608 votes) while Nathan Banda polled 41.7 percent of the vote (435 votes) Voters in Districts 2, 3 and 4 will elect a council member from their parts of town in 2018. San Juan Capistrano switched from citywide voting to districts after deciding not to fight a lawsuit filed against the city in January. A Latino advocacy group, the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, asserted that San Juan’s practice of at-large voting violated the California Voting Rights Act, putting a nearly 40 percent Latino minority at a disadvantage." Read More Click Here

    Riverside County

  3. Hemet (Riverside County) agreed to convert to district elections. Hemet held its first municipal district elections in Nov. 2016. Latin@ candidate Paul Valenzuela lost a close race in Nov. in the Latin@ influence district.
    • "The Hemet City Council settled on election districts Tuesday, April 12, picking a plan that uses the 74 and State Street as major dividing lines. Starting in November, Hemet voters will select representatives based on where they live. Previously, council members were selected at-large. They could live anywhere in the city and be voted on by everyone who cast a ballot. Now, they will have to live in a specific area and only registered voters in that area can vote for them. Hemet will now be in compliance with the state's Voters Right Act, which was enacted to make it easier to have minority representation on elected boards." Read More Click Here
  4. Wildomar (Riverside County) agreed to convert to district elections. Wildomar held its first municipal district elections in Nov. 2016. (A Latin@ candidate dropped out of the race due to health issues)
    • "Beginning with the city's first election held along with the incorporation vote in 2008, each of the four council contests has been conducted at large. Any registered voter in the city could vote for any candidate. However, the city was hit with a legal challenge in December contending the at-large approach violated the state Voting Rights Act of 2001. The threat prompted the city to turn to districts rather than fight a court battle that could have cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. To institute the changes for the November election, city officials had to expedite establishing districts, including demographic research and legal scrutiny at a cost of about $70,000." Read More Click Here

    San Bernardino County

  5. Upland adopted Ordinance No. 1909 to establish by-district election of four council members and establishing the boundaries of each council district. This first election by districts will take place with the November 2018 election.
    • "This first election by districts will take place with the November 2018 election. In that election three Council Members will be elected by district. The remaining Council position will be elected by district in 2020. Per the settlement agreement, the district(s) with a majority minority representation will be among the first district elections. The other districts to be elected in 2018 will be decided by the City Council prior to the election. After each census report is published, the districts will be reviewed and boundaries may be reconsidered to ensure equal (within 5%) population distribution between the districts." Read More Click Here
  6. Rancho Cucamonga in response to a lawsuit by SVREP, approved a referendum in Nov 2016 and voters approved the proposal of establishing a “by-district system” when voting for four city council members.
    • "City Attorney, James Markman announced during the City Council meeting last evening a formal lawsuit has been filed against the City of Rancho Cucamonga by three law firms on behalf of a plaintiff Southwest Voter Registration Project on an item on the City Council Agenda for the March 16th City Council meeting titled: “Presentation Regarding the California Voting Rights Act, and Consideration of a Resolution Adopting Line Drawing Criteria for Creating Council District Boundaries,” the Agenda was publicly posted on Thursday, March 10, 2016. City officials received the lawsuit on Monday, March 14, 2016." Read More Click Here
  7. Chino agreed to convert to district elections. Chino held its first municipal district elections in Nov. 2016, though no Latin@ ran for office.
    • "Faced with a legal challenge from a Malibu law firm, the Chino City Council this week gave tentative approval to divide the city into voting districts. The council will take final action June 7 to approve a map that will move the city from general at-large elections to by-district voting, starting with the Nov. 8 general election. Chino and other California cities, including Rancho Cucamonga and Highland, have caught the attention of a Malibu law firm, which claims at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act and dilute “the ability of minority residents — particularly Latinos, a ‘protected class’ — to elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome” of council elections. With this charge of racial polarization, Shenkman & Hughes is demanding the cities draw voting districts or face multimillion-dollar lawsuits. No city legally fighting it has won in court." Read More Click Here

    San Diego County

  8. San Marcos agreed to convert to district elections in 2018. The City Council agreed to create 4 districts with a Mayor elected at-large.
    • "This election marks the last time San Marcos council members were chosen by voters throughout the whole city. In 2018, council elections will be done by districts, rather than at-large voting. The mayor’s seat, however, will continue to be voted on by the entire city. The city decided earlier this year to make the change after it was threatened with a lawsuit alleging its voting system disenfranchised Latino voters and violated the California Voting Rights Act." Read More Click Here

    Once the word got out on this initiative community leaders from several other jurisdictions requested SVREP action. Thus, Shenkman & Hughes issued more demand letters late in 2016. Here is our progress report:

    San Bernardino County

  9. Fontana - In response to demand letter on SVREP's behalf from Shenkman & Hughes, Fontana is considering a January 2017 resolution to implement district elections.
  10. San Diego County

  11. San Marcos Unified School District - A voting-rights lawsuit was filed against the San Marcos Unified School District. Two Latin@ candidates, Lucia Acosta and Leticia Robles, lost bids for election under the current at-large system.
    • "The suit — filed Tuesday by Malibu-based attorney Kevin Shenkman, on behalf of two district residents — seeks sweeping changes in San Marcos school-board elections, arguing the current system disenfranchises Latino voters in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Latinos make up roughly one-third of residents in San Marcos Unified, but in each of the last five board elections Latinos ran for seats and lost, according to the suit. It says the ‘disenfranchisement of the Latino community is so complete, that it is believed that no Latino has ever been elected’ to the district board." Read More Click Here

Additional SVREP CVRA Activities

SVREP was active with nonpartisan voter registration and voter education activities in three other jurisdictions where district elections or referenda under the CVRA were held in November 2016: Palmdale, Garden Grove, and Moreno Valley USD. The results were the following:

  • Juan Carrillo -a Latin@,was elected to the Palmdale City Council on November 8, 2016 from newly drawn Latin@ majority District 4.
  • Kim Nguyen -a Latin@-Vietnamese, was elected to Garden Grove City Council from newly drawn Latin@ influence District 6.
  • Marisela Felix Lopez and Tiffany Alvarez lost for the Latin@ influence Trustee Area 2 seat in Moreno Valley USD.

Want to learn more about past Voting Rights lawsuits under California Voting Rights Act?

Anaheim Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“…Anaheim City Council settles nearly 2-year-old Voting Rights Act lawsuit; Voters to have final say…” Anaheim’s City Council on Tuesday settled a lawsuit that alleged the city’s at-large election system denied the city's Latino majority the ability to elect council members of its choice. The settlement calls for the city to put two charter amendments to voters in November. Voters will be asked if they want to increase the city's four-member council to six members. And they will be asked if they want to elect council members by district. Read More Click Here

Compton Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“…Compton Votación que genera mayor segmentación…Los afroamericanos, que son aproximadamente 33% de la población de Compton, tienen todos los escaños en el Concejo municipal… Los latinos constituyen casi dos terceras partes de los cerca de 96,500 residentes de Compton, según el Censo de 2010. Sin embargo, los afroamericanos, que son aproximadamente 33% de la población, tienen todos los escaños en el Concejo municipal. Las concejalas Janna Zurita, del distrito 1, e Yvonne Arceneaux, del 3, reclaman tener algún origen hispano, pero fueron criadas como afroamericanas y su comportamiento y trato social es tal.” Read More Click Here

Escondido Settles Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“…City will become first in North County with election districts…ESCONDIDO — Escondido has settled a voting rights lawsuit by agreeing to become the first North County city to have City Council members represent specific geographic areas, city officials announced Wednesday. The settlement comes 15 months after five Escondido residents filed suit, arguing the city’s at-large elections discriminate against Latinos. Latinos make up 49 percent of Escondido’s population, but only two Latinos have been elected to the council in the city’s 125-year history. Read More Click Here

Garden Grove Settles Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“...The City Council upended how residents will select its members Friday night, doing away with an independently elected mayor and opting to create five voting districts. The changes will go into effect in November 2016. The City Council approved district elections as part of a settlement agreement with Rickk Montoya, a former council candidate who argued the at-large system – where the entire city votes for each council seat – violates the California Voting Rights Act and essentially disenfranchises Latino voters.” Read More Click Here

Highland Ordered to Implement District Elections in Voting Rights Lawsuit;

"It's official. The cities of Highland and Yucaipa will hold district-based elections in November. A Superior Court judge ordered Highland to make the change, while Yucaipa officials made the switch to pre-empt possible litigation. Both cities this week adopted resolutions formally announcing the Nov. 8 election. Highland was sued over its at-large election system, joining a long list of municipalities targeted under the California Voting Rights Acts of 2001. Cities with at-large systems have been sued for violating the act by causing racially polarized voting. The most common remedy for this has been changing to a system that divides municipalities into districts, such as those used to elect representatives to state Assembly and Senate, for example." Read More Click Here

Palmdale Officials Settle Lawsuit, Agree to Vote by District;

"… The city agreed to align its balloting to coincide with state and federal general elections, starting in November 2016. It also agreed to have voters choose elected officials by four geographic districts, including two with Latino majorities, rather than from the city as a whole. Palmdale also will pay $4.5 million plus interest to lawyers for the three minority plaintiffs who argued that the city's at-large voting system deprived them of opportunities to elect representatives of their choice. The current City Council members will continue to serve until the next election, when the balloting for mayor — elected at large every two years — also will be held. Council terms can be staggered after that, according to the agreement…" Read More Click Here

City of Fullerton Voting Rights Lawsuit;

"…Fullerton's at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans; suit says…A civil rights lawsuit seeks to change Fullerton's at-large voting system for City Council seats. Two civil rights groups sued the city of Fullerton on Wednesday, saying the college town's at-large voting system shuts out Asian Americans. In their lawsuit, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California and Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A. allege Fullerton's system for electing council members violates the California Voting Rights Act and blocks large segments of the community — especially Asian Americans — from having a voice in city government. "Almost one in four eligible voters in Fullerton is Asian American, yet despite their sizable numbers, no Asian American currently serves on the City Council," said Deanna Kitamura, senior staff attorney at Asian Americans Advancing Justice — L.A…" Read More Click Here

City of Merced, Los Baños and Turlock Voting Rights lawsuit;

"…Community Advocacy Coalition threatened to sue city…With 87 percent of precincts reporting at press time, the vote appeared to have cast aside Merced’s at-large voting system, in which local elections are decided by a citywide vote, for a system with districts. Voting “yes” may have also spared the city from a lawsuit. Though Merced has a Latino population of 49 percent, no member of the City Council is of Latino descent. The 2013 local election drew council hopefuls who fit that demographic, but none won a seat…" Read More Click Here

Santa Barbara Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“…Activists sue Santa Barbara, alleging voting rights violations… Five Spanish-surnamed registered voters in the city of more than 88,000 filed suit in Santa Barbara County Superior Court, claiming the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Santa Barbara Mayor Helene Schneider called the lawsuit premature and said the city had already authorized a study of its elections. The plaintiffs allege the city's at-large elections system "has resulted in vote dilution for Latino residents and has denied them effective political participation in elections to the Santa Barbara City Council." “…The plaintiffs, who are represented by former Santa Barbara City Atty. A. Barry Cappello, said in their suit they have found evidence of racially polarized voting. Analysis of precinct results can be used to find patterns of such voting, in which the outcomes in minority precincts differ from those in the rest of a jurisdiction. Such differences in voting patterns are key in bringing a successful lawsuit under the state's Voting Rights Act, written in 2001 and on the books since 2002…” Read More Click Here

City of Santa Clarita Voting Rights Lawsuit;

Santa Clarita Votes To Settle California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit…Settled before going to trial. The city moved City Council elections to even-numbered years and employed cumulative voting. The city is set to move City Council elections to even-numbered years and employ cumulative voting. The decision was made in closed session before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but it’s not going to affect the ballots that voters will have for the April 8 election, officials said. “The settlement represents an opportunity for all Santa Clarita citizens to have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice — no longer will a bare majority be able to dominate 100 percent of the City Council,” said Kevin Shenkman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. “(Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser) should be commended for their efforts to make that a reality.” The end result will be that the two incumbents who would have been up for election in April 2016 — Councilmen Tim Ben Boydston and Bob Kellar — will be up for election November 2016…” Read more here

San Mateo County Voting Rights Lawsuit;

“…San Mateo County switched to district elections which became official when the county agreed to settle a voting-rights suit filed in April 2011 by Asian American and Latino voters that challenged countywide elections…” San Mateo County will switch to district elections for supervisors next year, ending its status as the lone holdout in California that still holds countywide votes, officials said Wednesday. The change will implement a ballot measure that voters approved in November. It was made official when the county agreed to settle a voting-rights suit filed in April 2011 by Asian American and Latino voters that challenged countywide elections, said a lawyer for the plaintiffs. "The last remaining California County has abandoned the discredited at-large system and adopted a district system that will empower the Asian and Latino communities," said attorney Robert Rubin. (Published 4:54 pm, Wednesday, February 20, 2013)

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