Suit challenges voting system

A group of voters who claim Armenian Americans have become so “politically sophisticated and well-financed” that they’ve monopolized the Glendale Community College Board of Trustees has filed a lawsuit seeking a change in how elections are carried out.

The lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court on Aug. 15, alleges that the district is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. It comes after months of discourse about altering the way college trustees are elected from the current at-large method to a district-based model.

The college’s existing at-large system “has produced a situation in which one highly-motivated, politically sophisticated and well-financed ethnic minority group” — identified by the plaintiffs as Armenian Americans — “effectively monopolizes membership on the board,” according to the lawsuit.

The five-member board of trustees currently includes two Armenian Americans, two Anglos and one Latina.

“We feel pretty good about the representation we have on the board,” said College Board President Armine Hacopian. “We already have a very diversified board of trustees, which is the purpose of the [suit].”

The lawsuit was filed by attorney Michael Miller, a volunteer speech and debate coach at the college who is representing five plaintiffs in the case who claim Armenian, mixed-race, Latino, Asian and African-American descent.

In at-large elections, such as those in Glendale, candidates can run and be elected regardless of their address within overall school district boundaries. In a district-based system, candidates compete to represent specific geographic areas within the district’s boundaries.

“We treat all the students the same,” Hacopian said. “Giving one group of people more attention and the other groups not — it’s unethical,” she said.

Passed in 2002, the CVRA seeks to protect the voting clout of minority groups by mandating a district-based system in elections where the at-large process dilutes their vote.

The law has gained increased attention during the last year, especially amid protests in Anaheim where an at-large system has produced an all-white city council in a city with a large Latino population.

Last November, a redistricting consultant warned Glendale Community College officials that there were enough examples of racially polarized voting to make the district vulnerable to litigation.

“It’s the job of the trustees to interpret the analysis we provided and work with their own counsel to determine their own election system,” said Paul Mitchell, a consultant with Redistricting Partners. “There’s nothing in this lawsuit that sheds new light on that need to transition.”

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