Category Archives: voting_rights_act

CA voting rights act leads to gerrymandering again

I just saw an article describing another case where the CA voting rights act imposes a remedy of (gerrymandered) districts on an at-large election.

(I previously wrote about the CA voting rights act and the city of Modesto)

Madera Unified case is changing elections throughout California

An injunction in the case is forcing Madera Unified, which is 82% Latino, to change the way it elects its board.

The latest step along that road was a ruling in September by Madera County Superior Court Judge James E. Oakley, who invalidated, in advance, the results of the November school board election. Oakley said Madera’s at-large voting system, in which all voters in the district cast ballots for all board members rather than for a candidate representing their section of town, violated the Voting Rights Act.

Relying on the remedy suggested by the law, he called for the district to be divided into seven trustee areas, with candidates to run in each.

The state’s Voting Rights Act, enacted in 2002, bans at-large voting if there is evidence that it “impairs the ability” of a minority group “to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”

Other jurisdictions are paying heed. In the wake of Oakley’s order, the Madera City Council decided to switch to district elections, City Councilman Robert Poythress said. And in neighboring Fresno County, where 28 of 32 school boards use at-large elections, all 28 decided to follow Madera’s lead and switch to district elections, county schools Supt. Larry Powell said.

And this gem:

Deciding not to fight the ruling, the school board drew up a map in which three of the seven voting districts have Latino majorities. In a delicate exercise in gerrymandering, each of the incumbents was given a separate district.

I’m no fan of at-large voting but imposed gerrymandered districts is a remedy that is worse then the previous situation. There should either be a process to ensure that the districts are not gerrymandered (such as algorithmic redistricting) or use of a decent multi-winner election method.

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Update on Modesto and CA voting rights act

Speaking of the case by Modesto disputing the CA voting rights act, the Ballot Access News reports this update:

Both Sides Have Now Filed U.S. Supreme Court Briefs in Modesto Case

The city of Modesto, California, is trying to persuade the U.S. Supreme Court to invalidate a California election law that will force Modesto to elect its city councilmembers by district. The California law is somewhat like the federal voting rights act, only it is stronger. Modesto will be forced to use districts to elect its city council because under the at-large system, virtually no Hispanics have ever been elected. Here is the brief of the organization opposed to the city. The case is City of Modesto v Sanchez, no. 07-88.

CA voting rights act only applies to at-large voting systems

(Yes, yes, I know that I still need to research the federal voting rights act and it’s impact on gerrymandering. Now I’ll also need to be aware of it’s impact on proportional representation systems.)

California has a voting rights act enacted in 2002. You can read about it at fairvote and at National Demographics Corporation (NDC) Research (and here is a pdf: NDC Research).

The act can cause local governments that use at-large methods of elections (as opposed to single-winner districts) and that have under-representation of minorities to have court enforced remedies imposed on them. The act implies that those remedies are typically the imposition of a single-winner districting solution.

The city of Modesto was sued in 2004 under this act and lost. They have a 25% Hispanic population but since 1911 one Hispanic city council-member has been elected for their at-large 5 member council. The city is counter suing and argues that the California Voting Rights Act violates the U.S. Constitution. It will be interesting to see how this develops.

The CA voting rights act seems to have a bias that at-large elections are the only source of distorted representation and that single winner districts is the preferred remedy. These assumptions should be questioned.

shortest splitline algorithm vs voting rights act?

When we first discussed the shortest-splitline algorithm for eliminating gerrymandering, Warren D. Smith had commented on the potential issue that current law mandates majority-minority districts.

The “issue” that gerrymandering to make majority-minority districts is required by law… sounds interesting. I encourage you to actually look at the law and inform us what the heck you are talking about.

Alas, I never did do that research. I had originally suspected that this might be so from the redistricting game.

It looks like Warren has now heard the same message from CA Secretary of State Debra Bowen while attending the Electronic Voting technology Workshop in Boston.

Here is what Warren has said on the matter:

CA secretary of state and heroine D. Bowen was there listening to the talks. I sat next to her at lunch and tried my best to give her the goods. But she’s very knowledgeable. I’m impressed. She said shortest splitline would be illegal under the voting rights act. Basically her argument was that gerrymandering is mandated by the VRA to create “majority minority” districts and splitline would prevent that hence is illegal, QED.

I suppose that I (or someone) should do the legwork to read the voting rights act to see what it has to say on the matter.