MALDEF DEMANDS SEQUOIA UNION HIGH SCHOOL DISTRICT CHANGE ITS AT-LARGE BOARD ELECTION SYSTEM
District System Violates California Voting Rights Act
May 19, 2016
REDWOOD CITY, CA - Today, MALDEF sent a letter to the Board President and Superintendent of the Sequoia Union High School District ("Sequoia UHSD"), demanding that the system for electing members of the board of trustees be changed to comply with the California Voting Rights Act ("CVRA"). Sequoia UHSD currently elects trustees using an at-large method, which has denied Latino residents the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Board of Trustees. MALDEF demands the election system be changed to a district-based system.
"With both federal and state education law reposing increased responsibility in local school boards to address the needs of minority students and to close the education gap, the inclusion of the perspectives of minority groups on such boards becomes ever more critical," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "It is our hope that Sequoia UHSD will respond to this demand with receptivity to ensuring that increasingly necessary inclusiveness."
MALDEF conducted an investigation after receiving complaints from Latino citizens and voters in the district that its at-large election system prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of their choice to the board of trustees. According to U.S. Census data, Latinos constitute over 30 percent of the total population in Sequoia UHSD, and 17 percent of the citizen voting age population, yet there are currently no Latinos serving on the board.
The CVRA states that "[a]n at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election." MALDEF reviewed election returns and demographic information, and concluded that the lack of success of Latino voters in electing candidates of their choice results from persistent racially-polarized voting in the electorate.
The letter requests that Sequoia UHSD respond to the letter by June 13, 2016. If the response is unsatisfactory, MALDEF and its clients will seek a judicial order changing the election system from at-large to by-district, along with other relief provided for in the CVRA, including the collection of costs and attorneys' fees.
Matthew Barragan, MALDEF Staff Attorney, said, "We are asking Sequoia Union High School District to implement elections that make sure that all communities, including the Latino community, have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. It is critical for the governance of our public schools to be inclusive and representative."
The right to vote is fundamental to democracy in the U.S. and must be protected for all citizens, regardless of race. MALDEF supports equal representation for all communities across the country.
A copy of MALDEF's letter is available here.
Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit: www.maldef.org.