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Could Vietnamese Groups Use the California Voting Rights Act to Sue Santa Ana?

Posted by Chris Nguyen on December 20, 2012

There’s been much discussion about the ACLU lawsuit against the City of Anaheim to force Councilmembers to be elected by district rather than at large, as voters in the entire city vote for every Councilmember.  The lawsuit cites the California Voting Rights Act of 2002’s requirements for racial representation on City Councils.  Anaheim is 53% Latino.

As Gustavo Arellano at the OC Weekly noted, Anaheim had an 80% nonwhite Council as recently as 2006, with Latino Councilmembers Richard Chavez and Bob Hernandez (both elected in 2002), Asian Councilmembers Lorri Galloway and Harry Sidhu (both elected in 2004), and white Mayor Curt Pringle (elected in 2002).  I might also note Lou Lopez served on the Council from 1994-1998 when he gave up his Council seat to run unsuccessfully for Supervisor.

With the election of white Councilmembers Jordan Brandman and Lucille Kring replacing termed out Asian Councilmembers Lorri Galloway and Harry Sidhu, Anaheim has its first all-white City Council in a decade.  What impact this will have on the lawsuit against Orange County’s largest city is to be seen.  Brandman has asked to agendize a possible lawsuit settlement for the next Council meeting .

Meanwhile in the County’s second-largest city, Santa Ana has had an all-Latino Council since 2006.  With six council wards, each Councilmember (other than the directly-elected Mayor) represents 16% of the city.  However, Santa Ana elects its Councilmembers at-large from these wards.  In other words, voters in the entire city still pick the Councilmember representing each ward.

Santa Ana’s Asian (mostly Vietnamese) population is highly concentrated in the western portion of the City.

In the redistricting plan adopted at the beginning of 2012, Ward 6’s border with Ward 3 moved south, and increased the Ward 3 Asian population by 16%.  The relatively square Ward 4 became much more rectangular by yielding most of its western territory to Ward 6 and picking up the southeastern portion of Ward 6.  This increased the Ward 4 Asian population by a whopping 209%.  However, these changes decreased the Ward 6 Asian population by 27%.

Prior to the 2012 redistricting, 46% of all Santa Ana Asians resided in Ward 6, 24% lived in Ward 3, and just 5% in Ward 4.  With the new districts, just 33% live in Ward 6,  27% live in Ward 3, and 17% live in Ward 4.

Can anyone say cracking?

The California Voting Rights Act of 2002 states that a violation “is established if it is shown that racially polarized voting occurs in elections for members of the governing body of the political subdivision or in elections incorporating other electoral choices by the voters of the political subdivision.”  It goes on to say, “The fact that members of a protected class are not geographically compact or concentrated may not preclude a finding of racially polarized voting…but may be a factor in determining an appropriate remedy.”

In practice, the most common remedy under the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 has been to have ward elections in which voters only vote one Councilmember to represent their ward and do not vote for any other Councilmembers (basically, ward elections make city council elections a lot more like supervisorial elections, legislative elections, and U.S. House elections).

Anaheim is being sued for violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 because citywide voters have not elected a Latino to the current City Council.  Could Santa Ana be sued for violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2002 because citywide voters have never not elected an Asian to the City Council in 31 years and the Council’s redistricting plan presents a major “cracking” of the Asian population?

6 Responses to “Could Vietnamese Groups Use the California Voting Rights Act to Sue Santa Ana?”

  1. [...] Nguyen published a new post that contains interesting lessons for the City of Anaheim, which is being sued by the ACLU and [...]

  2. Gustavo Arellano said

    You conservative funboys are always a hoot. First off, spell my last name correctly; secondly, SanTana voters have elected an Asian to the City Council in the past—you can look it up!

    • I apologize on the misspelling; I have fixed it. I’ve also corrected the “never elected an Asian to the City Council” to “not elected an Asian to the City Council in 31 years.” Thanks for pointing it out. I had looked back 20 years when I first wrote the post, but clearly, I should have looked back further.

  3. Santa Ana Voter said

    Based on this assessment, wouldn’t African-American and Caucasian groups also have the opportunity to sue for underrepresentation by this council?
    It’s been a number of years since the last non-Latino left the council, and the demographics of the new ward layout seems to make it a perfect opportunity for what the voting act calls “racially polarized voting”, and a continuing Latino only council.

    • Actually, the way the California Voting Rights Act is structured, “Caucasian groups also have the opportunity to sue for underrepresentation by this council,” it’s just one hasn’t yet. African-Americans are only 1% of Santa Ana’s population according to the Census and are proportionally too low to seek relief under the California Voting Rights Act. The California Voting Rights Act really is a wacky law.

  4. Don juan said

    I think all of the previous Latino city council electeds were helped considerably by unions. Lou was a cop. Richard and Bob were firefighters.

    Harry had money.

    Lori was just well known and most who me her liked her up till she started getting more active on issue. By then, incumbency advantages were so overwhelmingly helping her get re-elected.

    Leos was/is a front for OCEA. If it was deciding on an issue that hurt Latino but helped the union, he would choose the union.
    A lot of Latino candidates who either are involved or willing to go along with the unions barking orders over the people, see also Julio Peres. There are many fools who believed this guy was speaking for them…himself and his union brothers and sisters

    If there is ” cracking ” in Santa Ana elections then there has to be cracking at the BOS districts maps too. Talk about percentages! How many Latinos in the OC and not one Latino.

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