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Activists appeal dismissal of voting rights lawsuit in Whittier

Whittier attorney Alex Moisa ran twice for the all-white City Council.
Whittier attorney Alex Moisa ran twice for the all-white City Council.
(Cheryl A. Guerrero / Los Angeles Times)

Activists in Whittier on Monday filed an appeal to a judge’s dismissal this month of their lawsuit challenging the city’s system of electing its officials.

Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Michael M. Johnson on Thursday granted the city’s request to dismiss the suit alleging that its at-large method of electing council members violated the California Voting Rights Act.

When voters gave the city permission this year to switch to electing officials by geographic district, the lawsuit became moot, Johnson said in dismissing it.

Whittier is one of several California cities with significant minority populations but few or no minority elected officials.

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Activists have been suing such cities, school districts and other local government bodies, claiming the at-large elections deprive minorities of opportunities to elect a representative of their choice. Several jurisdictions have switched to district elections when confronted with evidence of racially polarized voting.

“The city is pleased that the court has recognized the right of Whittier voters to determine the method of selecting City Council members,” City Manager Jeff Collier said in a statement when the judge dismissed the lawsuit. “We look forward to working with the community during the coming months to create city council districts that are legal, fair and reflective of both the diversity and unity of our community,” he added.

The first election under the new system is to be held in April 2016.

But activists also wanted the city to hold its elections in November--at the same time as state and national balloting--to improve turnout and ease confusion.

In turning to the appeals court, plaintiffs Jafet Diego, Miguel Garcia and Lisa Lopez, all Whittier residents, signaled their disagreement with the trial judge’s ruling that the new election system made their case moot.

Follow @jeanmerl for the latest in Southern California politics news.


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