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Political Rights Group to Study Santa Ana : Legal Challenge to the City's Elections System May Follow

November 06, 1986|ANDY ROSE | Times Staff Writer

A San Antonio-based organization known nationally as a defender of political rights for minorities announced Wednesday that it will conduct a three-month study in Santa Ana as a prelude to a possible challenge to the city's method of local elections.

Based on the study, the president of the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project said, the group will decide whether to file a lawsuit challenging Santa Ana's election system. At present, candidates are elected on a citywide vote but must live in specific wards.

SVREP president William Velasquez said his group previously has successfully altered election systems in 82 cities.

The announcement came on the heels of Tuesday's defeat of Measure H, which would have established ward elections for the City Council. Had the measure passed, candidates would be elected by voters from wards in which the candidates live, with no citywide voting, except for mayor.

After Measure H's defeat, former Mayor Gordon Bricken predicted a legal challenge to the city's current system. He said the system violates the "one-man, one-vote" principle because voters in a ward can, in effect, be overruled by voters elsewhere in the city.

"We preferred not to do anything in Santa Ana until after this election," Velasquez said. "Now we are gathering data on Santa Ana. If it shows that the at-large system disenfranchises minorities . . . then we will consider getting involved."

Among the aspects to be studied are voting patterns, socioeconomic status, whether minorities tend to live in separate areas, campaign scare tactics, Anglo response to minority votes and the city's political history. Velasquez said the organization has never lost a lawsuit.

Different Challenge Needed

However, Councilman Dan Young, who opposed Measure H, said he believes that such lawsuits have invariably focused on ward election systems that disenfranchise groups, for example, by dividing minority communities. Because Santa Ana elects council members citywide, a lawsuit filed here would have to be a different kind of challenge, he said.

Young backed an alternative, Measure G, that was placed on the ballot by the council and approved by the voters Tuesday. Under that new law, the mayor will be directly elected beginning in 1988 and the city's wards will be reduced from seven to six in order to maintain an odd number of council votes.

Backers of the ward election proposal blamed their defeat on the City Council's measure, which they described as a red herring designed to confuse voters. "It looks like the council's dirty work has been effective," said H spokesman Jim Lowman.

Young said he believes that the council will discuss the issue of redrawing ward boundaries at its meeting Dec. 1. City Clerk Janice Guy said the deadline to have the redistricting of wards completed for the November, 1988, election would be would be by July of that year.

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