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Indybay FeatureRelated Categories: Central Valley | Education & Student Activism | Government & Elections | Racial Justice
Voters Sue Madera Unified School District
The Lawyers’ Committee filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Latino voters against the Madera Unified School District (MUSD), charging that the school district’s at-large method of election is racially polarized and violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). The suit challenges the school district’s discriminatory voting system and seeks to protect the Latino community against vote dilution.
MADERA -- The Lawyers’ Committee filed a lawsuit today on behalf of Latino voters against the Madera Unified School District (MUSD), charging that the school district’s at-large method of election is racially polarized and violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA). The suit challenges the school district’s discriminatory voting system and seeks to protect the Latino community against vote dilution.
Latinos constitute approximately 44% of MUSD’s voting eligible population. Yet, only one of the current school board members is Latino. And over the past 25 years, no more than one Latino has ever occupied a seat on the board. This is a result of MUSD’s at- large voting system, which along with a racially polarized electorate, has repeatedly resulted in a school board with little or no Latino representatives despite the significant Latino population in MTJSD. The at-large method of election prevents Latino residents from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of school board elections.
The Lawyers’ Committee recently sent letters to 25 school districts encouraging them to voluntarily end their practice of at-large elections or risk litigation. Approximately 90% of the school boards in the state are elected at-large.
Robert Rubin, Legal Director of the Lawyers’ Committee and co-lead counsel, said: “We have put on notice city councils, school boards and other bodies throughout the state that conduct at-large elections that we will sue them if their voting is characterized by racially polarized voting. Voting is perhaps our most cherished liberty and any attempt to dilute that vote will be challenged.”
In a report prepared for the litigation, Professor Allan J. Lichiman, a renowned voting rights expert, found that non-Latino voters unilaterally dictated the results of the seven elections he analyzed. He explains: “From 1996 to 2004, as a result of racially polarized voting, four.. . Latino candidates failed to win school board positions. These candidates. . . would all have been elected based on Latino votes, but were defeated by bloc voting from non-Latino voters.”
Enacted in 2001, the CVRA allows voters to challenge at-large voting systems that are characterized by racially polarized voting patterns. Once racial polarization is demonstrated, the voters can then demand that the jurisdiction convert to a district system, generally thought to provide minority groups a greater opportunity to influence elections and elect candidates of their choice. The CVRA applies to any governing body for any jurisdiction, including but not limited to, a city, a school district, a community college district, or any other district organized pursuant to state law.
George Brown, co-lead counsel, is a partner with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, which is providing pro bono assistance on the case. He said: “The cases we are bringing under the California Voting Rights Act will prove to be important in helping to empower voters who have been excluded from the electoral process for many years. School Districts throughout the State who use at-large election systems should seriously consider whether they should immediately begin the process of converting to district- based election systems.”
The suit against Madera is one of the first cases to be filed under the CVRA. The Lawyers’ Committee litigated the first two matters filed: one case against the Hanford Joint Union High School District successfully settled, and the other case against the Modesto City Council ultimately reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where the constitutionality of the CVRA was upheld. In thc Modesto case, the city paid $3 million in attorneys’ fees.
Private practitioner Joaquin Avila is also co-counsel on the case.
For more information or to request a copy of the complaint, contact Anayma DeFrias at 415-543-9444, ext. 221
The text (above) is from Anayma DeFrias at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Robert Rubin is Legal Director at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.
Carlos Uranga is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against Madera Unified School District
This Press Conference was held on August 21, 2008. Video and photos by Mike Rhodes. The text (above) is from Anayma DeFrias at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area.