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Santa Monica Asks Judge to Toss Voting Rights Lawsuit


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By Jorge Casuso

March 30, 2018 -- The City last week asked a Los Angeles Superior Court judge to toss out a voting rights lawsuit challenging Santa Monica's use of at-large elections for Council positions "because it has not caused any dilution of Latino/a voting strength," City officials said Thursday.

Previous efforts to dismiss the lawsuit have been denied by a trial court, appellate court and the California Supreme Court, according to the plaintiffs attorneys.

In last week's motion, the City argued that "Santa Monica’s Latino/a voters can and do exercise their full voting power to elect the City Council candidates they prefer," City officials said in a statement.

Latino voters in Santa Monica, who represent 13 percent of the voting population, live throughout the City, making it "impossible to create a Latino/a-majority district," officials said.

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"The creation of any district designed to concentrate Latino/a voters would actually have the opposite result -- isolating the majority of Latino/a voters outside of that district," according to the statement.

City officials note that over the past several election cycles, Latino candidates have been successful in elections for all of the City’s governing bodies, holding roughly one-fifth of the City’s elective offices, although they account for just over one-eighth of the City’s population.

The City also argues that two of the seven current Council members "are ethnically Latino/a" -- Tony Vazquez and Gleam Davis, who has testified that her biological father was Mexican ("Santa Monica Has Two Latino Council Members, City Officials Contend," July 10, 2017).

In addition, the City’s motion argues that application of certain provisions of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) to Santa Monica "would result in the drawing of race-based voting districts without sufficient justification in violation of the U.S. Constitution."

Kevin Shenkman, the plaintiffs' attorney, said the City's motion echoes arguments made by "racist right-wingers" and predicts that the motion will "ultimately be denied."

"It is particularly disturbing that a purportedly progressive city as Santa Monica would parrot the misguided arguments of only the most racist right-wingers against minority voting rights," Shenkman said.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit -- the Pico Neighborhood Association and local Latina candidate Maria Loya -- claim that the City's at-large elections are meant to prevent candidates from non-Anglo sections of the city from winning representation on the City Council.

Of the dozens of California municipalities sued for violating the Voting Rights Act, Santa Monica is the only one still fighting litigation, Shenkman said. ("City of Santa Monica the 'One Hold Out' in Voting Rights Litigation, Lawyer says," May 18, 2017).

A hearing on the motion is scheduled for June 14.


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