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City Seeks to Use Recent Election Results in Voting Rights Case
By Jorge Casuso
March 23, 2021 -- The City is seeking to use the recent election of two Latino Councilmembers from the Pico Neighborhood to defend Santa Monica's at-large election system in the ongoing voting rights case.
Attorneys for the City mentioned the election of Oscar de la Torre and Christine Parra in their answering brief filed with the California Supreme Court on Monday.
They also asked the court to consider last November's election results and the addresses or neighborhoods where the candidates live.
The City's attorneys contend the Council now has three Latinos, including Councilmember Gleam Davis, an Ocean Park resident who was adopted and whose biological father was Mexican.
"Over the past quarter-century, candidates preferred by Santa Monica’s Latino voters have usually been elected at-large to its seven-member City Council, even though Latinos make up less than one-seventh of the City’s eligible voters," the defense attorneys wrote in the brief.
"Some of those Latino-preferred candidates have themselves been Latino, and three of the seven seats are currently held by Latino Councilmembers.
"No alternative election system, including districts, could enhance Latino voters’ already-powerful influence on election outcomes," the attorneys wrote.
The City notes that the Pico Neighborhood district proposed by the plaintiffs is currently represented by three Councilmembers.
Kevin Shenkman, the lead attorney for the Latino plaintiffs in the case, said he will oppose the City's request to consider the November election results.
"It's completely inappropriate to consider that in the appelate state," Shenkman said. "What happens after a judgment does not get reviewed."
Shenkman believes "special circumstances," including the City's response to the May 31 riots, led to a voter revolt that saw three incumbents defeated in one election, as many as had lost in 26 years.
"There's an election every two years, and the courts don't act that quickly," he said. "It would be never ending. Looking at one election gives a distorted view."
The Supreme Court is hearing the plaintiffs' appeal of an Appellate Court decision that ruled the City's at-large election system did not discriminate against Latino voters ("Santa Monica's Election System Does Not Violate Latino's Voting Rights, Appeals Court Rules," July 9, 2020).
In its Supreme Court brief filed Monday, the City reiterated its position that Latino voters "are too small in numbers and too dispersed for any alternative electoral scheme meaningfully to increase their electoral influence."
Districts would, in fact, have the opposite effect "by packing one-third of (Latino voters) in a district where they would be too few to meaningfully influence election outcomes, while stranding the other two-thirds in overwhelmingly white districts in which they would have no such influence."
In their opening brief, attorneys for the plaintiffs -- Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association (PNA) -- argued they "do not need to prove the minority is concentrated enough to be the majority in a single member district.
"Nor do they need to prove that minority voters would be able to elect a candidate of their choice under an alternative election system," Shenkman wrote.
"It is sufficient to show an alternative election system would enable them to 'influence the outcome of an election' in a way they were not previously afforded."
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