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Editorial

Voting rights in Palmdale

An injunction will rightly halt the city's municipal at-large elections next month. Palmdale needs to form district-based systems to help smaller groups elect representatives from their own communities.

October 04, 2013|By The Times editorial board
  • Earlier this year, the city of Palmdale was found to be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. Above, a voter grabs a sticker after voting.
Earlier this year, the city of Palmdale was found to be in violation of the… (Los Angeles Times )

It's been well over two months since the city of Palmdale was found to be in violation of the California Voting found to be in violation of the California Voting Rights Act. A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge concluded in July that city elections had been characterized by "racially polarized voting" and that the at-large system for electing the City Council and the mayor put blacks and Latinos at a disadvantage.

This week, Judge Mark V. Mooney followed up by granting an injunction to halt the city's municipal at-large elections next month.

Not only was he right to cancel the Nov. 5 elections, but his ruling should not have come as a shock to Palmdale officials. At-large voting systems often dilute the voting strength of minority groups; district-based systems, by contrast, help smaller groups elect representatives of their choice from their own communities. Forty percent of Palmdale's voting-age citizens are Latino and 17% are black, yet in the 51 years that the city has been incorporated, its citizens have elected only one minority official, a Latino.

Palmdale city officials are outraged; they say that canceling the elections will leave voters "silenced." They intend to ask an appellate court to reject the injunction.

But the truth is that the sooner officials begin the process of dividing the city into smaller voting districts, the sooner everyone will have a voice in city elections.

Yes, it's inconvenient for Palmdale. Absentee ballots have already gone out. But holding the elections under the old rules is no solution. In fact, if that were to happen, the plaintiffs could make a strong case for decertifying the results.

Dividing a city into districts is a practical — if imperfect — solution, but one that has enhanced minority voting strength in many communities across the country. Since the California Voting Rights Act was passed in 2002 forbidding the use of at-large elections to dilute the power of minority voters, some 15 to 20 cities, school districts and other government entities have been sued. In most cases, municipalities ended up moving to district voting.

Palmdale officials may want to keep that in mind as they consider dragging this out with costly appeals that could throw their electoral system into a crisis far worse than a postponement of next month's elections.

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