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California

Trial ordered in Compton voter suit

Two women who sued the city of Compton, alleging that the city’s election system violates the rights of Latino voters, have not presented enough evidence to decide the case without a trial, a judge has ruled.

The plaintiffs, both Latinas, asked the court for a summary judgment, arguing that the facts show without dispute that the city’s at-large voting system impairs the ability of Latino voters to elect the candidates of their choice.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White ruled Friday that the women had not presented strong enough evidence to decide the case on the spot, meaning it will go to trial as scheduled in February.

In her ruling, White wrote that the plaintiff’s analysis “is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of racially polarized elections for City Council and mayor.”

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But, she wrote, the question remains “whether the at-large election has impaired the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of its choice or ability to influence the outcome of an election due to abridgment of their voting rights.”

The population of Compton, historically a black stronghold, is now about two-thirds Latino, but Latinos are a minority of eligible voters. The plaintiffs contend that no Latino candidate has ever been elected to Compton’s City Council, and they blame the city’s at-large voting system for diluting the Latino vote.

“No or almost no person who is not Latino in Compton has ever voted in all of these elections for a Latino candidate,” Gay Grunfeld, an attorney for plaintiffs Felicitas Gonzalez and Flora Ruiz, told the judge.

“Therefore,” the attorney said, “Latinos are going to have to turn out at twice the rate of all the other voters to have a candidate of their choice elected unless there’s a change in the system.”

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The city called the plaintiffs’ analysis of voting patterns flawed and argued that two current council members — Janna Zurita and Yvonne Arceneaux — are of Latino heritage, although both self-identify as African American and are not entrenched in Compton’s Latino community.

“We submit to the court that the Latinos have selected a Latino candidate. There is a Latino candidate, two in fact, sitting on the City Council in Compton as we speak,” Deputy City Atty. Jose Paz told the court.

abby.sewell@latimes.com


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