Anaheim voting rights case ordered to go to trial

Anaheim voting rights case ordered to go to trial
Anaheim resident Jesse Murillo, left, was among those who protested the Anaheim City Council's election plan, which they felt did not address their concerns. (Glenn Koenig / Los Angeles Times)

The legal case over whether Anaheim's election system denies Latinos fair political participation has been ordered to go to trial.

The case had been put on hold while the Anaheim City Council voted on changes to the city's at-large election system. Anaheim is one of the largest cities in California that does not have council districts.


The ACLU filed the case alleging violations of the state’s Voting Rights Act last year on behalf of three Anaheim residents.

At the time, Anaheim had an at-large election system, in which all voters choose council members. Last week, the council added a residency condition, which requires candidates to live in designated districts but otherwise left at-large voting intact.

The decision went against the demands of the ACLU and various community organizations who were calling for a citywide vote on voting districts, in which each district would elect its own representative.

Census data analyzed by The Times shows that Anaheim, which is now more than 50% Latino, is deeply divided along ethnic and economic lines.

Several activists sat in on Tuesday's hearing wearing stickers that read "we want our day in court." They cheered the judge's decision.

"I believe it's a step in the right direction," said Carlos Becerra, 19. "We've tried to have a change to district elections and they haven't listened, so we're going to let the courts decide."

Attorney Marguerite Leoni, who argued on behalf of the city, said the Anaheim council had made a fundamental change to its election model. She argued that it would be difficult for the judge to decide "on past history whether this entire new system is constitutional."

Robert Rubin, a civil rights attorney who spoke on behalf of the plaintiffs, called the changes adopted by Anaheim a "step backwards" that "disadvantages minority community voters." He said it was time for the plaintiffs to have their day in court.

Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz Miller said he put the case on hold temporarily because Anaheim’s election law was in a state of flux. In part, he said, he wanted to see if the changes adopted by city leaders would resolve the complaints raised in the lawsuit.

The ACLU's lawyers said they did not believe the issues had been resolved.

The case is set to go to trial March 17.

Leoni said she will file a new motion to stay the case. That motion is expected to be heard in October.



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