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Judge declines to delay Compton elections

A lawsuit says at-large elections for City Council weaken Latinos' voting power, and the plaintiffs are pushing for district-restricted voting. They wanted elections put off until their case was resolved at trial.

January 19, 2011|By Ann M. Simmons, Los Angeles Times

A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has denied a request to delay Compton's municipal elections until a trial determines whether the city's at-large elections violate the civil rights of Latinos by diluting their voting power.

In a tentative ruling hashed out with attorneys Tuesday, Judge Ann I. Jones said the plaintiffs, three Latina residents, had not presented enough evidence to warrant postponing Compton's April primary and June general election. Jones said she would take the matter under submission, before issuing a definitive judgment within the week.

"We are on pins and needles until we get a decision, at least for now," said Compton City Atty. Craig Cornwell.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs expressed disappointment but insisted that the preliminary ruling would not derail a trial.

"We thought we had a compelling case," said Joaquin G. Avila, whose clients sued the city last year under the 2001 California Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs contend that the city's at-large elections to choose a representative for each of Compton's four districts weaken Latinos' voting power, and they are pushing for district-restricted voting.

Such a change could give a Latino candidate a greater chance of winning a council seat, the plaintiffs argue. Over the last two decades Compton's population has shifted from predominantly African American to about two-thirds Latino, though blacks still constitute the majority of registered voters. No Latino candidate has ever been elected to the City Council or any other city office.

"What we have here is a complete absence historically of Latino representation," Avila told the court Tuesday.

Anita Aviles, Compton's deputy city attorney, pointed out that voters would have to agree to change Compton's city charter, which dictates that elections be held at-large.

Even if voting had been by district for the April 2009 primary, in which two Latino candidates lost, analysis showed that the outcome would have been the same, city attorneys said.

But lawyers for the plaintiffs have presented statistical analysis from academic and demographics experts to show that voting is racially polarized in Compton. Their data found that Latino voters typically support Latino candidates, while blacks seldom support them. Latinos, however, could win election in districts with denser populations of registered Latino voters, the data analysis found.

Such a district could be drawn, according to the analysis, based on 2000 census figures.

But Jones, the judge, found inconsistencies in the findings of the plaintiffs' authorities, questioned the reliability of the analysis and expressed reservations about one expert whose credentials she called "sketchy."

"It's my conclusion … I did not have sufficient evidence to decide on the likely success of the merits," Jones said Tuesday. "The balance of harm did not weigh in favor of the plaintiffs."

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