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California

Gov. Jerry Brown vetoes expansion of state Voting Rights Act

Voting booths
Voting booths inside the East Whittier United Methodist Church await voters in the June 3 primary election.
(Rick Loomis)

Amid a flurry of last-minute action on legislation awaiting his signature, Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have expanded the ability of minority groups to sue under the state’s Voting Rights Act.

Minority groups have successfully sued cities and school districts in recent years under the state’s Voting Rights Act, which allows challenges to voting systems in which representatives are elected at-large. To prevail, groups must show their voting power has been diluted.

SB 1365, sponsored by Sen. Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), would have amended the law to also allow challenges to systems in which officials are elected by district. A judge could then order the local government to redraw district lines or increase the number of seats on the elected body to ensure minority voters would be treated equally.

Under current law, challenges to district-based voting systems may only be filed in federal court.

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The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, among other government bodies, could have been targeted under the amended law for failing to create a second district where a majority of voters are Latino. The board’s lone Latino-majority district was drawn as the result of a federal lawsuit more than 20 years ago.

Advocacy groups have since argued for a second district, noting that Latinos make up nearly half the population of the county. A majority of the current board has resisted drawing new district boundaries to accomplish that.

Padilla’s bill was backed by a coalition of advocacy groups, but critics argued that it was poorly written and could open the whole California Voting Rights Act to legal challenges.

In his veto message, Brown wrote, “While there is progress to be made, the federal Voting Rights Act and the California Voting Rights Act already provide important safeguards to ensure that the voting strength of minority communities is not diluted.”

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Follow Abby Sewell on Twitter at @sewella for more county news.


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