In the year since the city of Palmdale's at-large election system was found by a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge to have violated the California Voting Rights Act, city officials have responded aggressively.
In the fall, after Judge Mark V. Mooney ordered the city to cancel its Nov. 5 at-large election, Palmdale officials persuaded California's 2nd District Court of Appeal to allow the election to proceed. Then, in the winter, Mooney banned the certification of the election results and ordered a new election by district rather than at large; Palmdale again appealed, arguing that as a charter city, it was not governed by the state Voting Rights Act. In the spring, the appellate court upheld Mooney's ban. So this summer, Palmdale officials went further, asking the California Supreme Court to weigh in.
What's that adage about doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result? Of course, Palmdale officials are within their rights to appeal until they run out of courts, but to be honest, their efforts look more and more like a colossal waste of time and money.
In the 12 years since the California Voting Rights Act was passed, no city government, school board or water board whose at-large election system was challenged has mounted a successful defense. (Most municipalities have settled their lawsuits before a trial.) At-large voting systems have often been found to dilute the voting strength of minority groups; district-based systems, by contrast, help smaller groups elect representatives of their choice from their own communities. Mooney determined that Palmdale's voting was "racially polarized" and that the at-large system had put minorities at a disadvantage. Forty percent of Palmdale's voting-age citizens are Latino and 17% are black. Yet since the city incorporated in 1962, it has elected only one Latino.
Yes, it is ironic that in the disputed election last November, Palmdale elected its first black city councilman — and that his election as well as that of his fellow council members are invalid, according to the judge. But the fact that under the at-large voting system Palmdale elected one black person in its 52-year history is hardly compelling evidence that the system works.
Instead of fighting so hard to keep the status quo, Palmdale should turn its attention to fixing a broken electoral system.