MALDEF GIVES WARNING TO CITY OF MERCED THAT AT-LARGE ELECTIONS VIOLATE CALIFORNIA VOTING RIGHTS ACT
By-District Elections Demanded After Investigation of Demographic, Electoral Data
LOS ANGELES, CA - MALDEF today sent a letter to Merced, California Mayor Stan Thurston warning that the use of an at-large election system for the election of candidates to the Merced City Council is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA).
After receiving numerous complaints from Latino voters within the City of Merced that they were prevented from electing candidates of their choice to the City Council, MALDEF conducted an investigation of demographic and electoral information. The investigation confirmed that none of the six current members of the City Council is Latino, and that there has been no Latino City Council member elected for nearly a decade. Latinos comprise over 49% of Merced's population, 37% of its citizen voting age population, and 33% of its registered voters. The investigation further confirmed that the non-Latino majority of the electorate consistently vetoes the electoral choices of the Latino electorate in Merced, putting the city at risk for violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
"To assure fair and democratic elections in Merced," said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel, "the city must shift to single-member districts, which have proven to ensure that all communities have their views represented; this in turn also secures better and more effective governance for all city residents."
In its demand letter, MALDEF warns that Merced risks liability under the CVRA unless it implements a by-district election system. The CVRA states "[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." In the absence of a satisfactory response from the city by May 1, 2014, MALDEF will consider litigation to address the violation.
"The persistent impairment of Latino voting strength because of at-large elections in Merced is exactly the kind of discriminatory voting rights violation that the CVRA was intended to rectify," said Denise Hulett, MALDEF National Senior Counsel.
Pablo Rodriguez, Founding Executive Director of Communities for a New California Education Fund (CNC) added, "The use of the at-large electoral system to elect Merced City Councilmembers has systematically limited the ability of minority voters to elect a candidate of their choice. Even Mayor Stan Thurston's earnest efforts to be responsive to concerns raised by residents of South Merced have been undermined by the lack of balanced geographic representation among all City Councilmembers."
The right to vote is fundamental to the strength of our democracy and must be protected for all citizens across the U.S. MALDEF has continually fought for equal board representation for all communities throughout California and will protect the right to a political voice wherever it may be threatened.
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.
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