Anaheim’s voting system, which dilutes the Latino vote by holding city-wide, rather than district-based elections, seriously undermines the representative legitimacy of our local democracy.
Anaheim’s situation is especially troublesome. Even though the majority of Anaheim’s residents are Hispanic, each and every one of its city council members live in its wealthiest neighborhood, while not a single Latino has been elected.
Such disempowering electoral systems are all too common in California, despite our state’s passage of the California Voting Rights Act, more than a decade ago, to facilitate legal challenges to these types of abuses.
Nonetheless, it is estimated that more than 400 California cities, including Santa Clarita and Whittier, are still using at-large election systems.
Whittier is a clear example of what’s wrong with this model. Two-thirds of its population and more than half of its voting-age residents are Latino. Yet, in a city incorporated in 1898, only one Latino was ever elected to city council: Victor Lopez, who held office from 1978 to 1990.
Whittier and other cities should open up their political system, allowing district-by-district rather than at-large elections for city council. Otherwise, they will be exposing themselves to costly lawsuits aimed at increasing the possibility of electing a Latino candidate.
Anaheim is not setting a very good example. Resisting change, the city has rejected the 180 degree turn recommended by its own commission to open up its electoral system once and for all. The council members ought to understand that the city’s political future can be delayed, but will inevitably occur.