Photo by John Schreiber.
Photo by John Schreiber.

Anaheim officials were warned Thursday that if they put off voting for a new City Council member in a Latino-majority district they could find themselves back in front of a judge, this time for violating federal voting laws.

The Anaheim City Council voted in January 2014 to settle its lawsuit in Orange County Superior Court with the ACLU, which led the way for a change in the city’s elections from an at-large system to one in which voters pick a representative by district.

In November 2014, Anaheim voters changed the city’s charter to have district-by-district elections for the council. Measure L was approved by a 30,873-to-13,981 margin. The size of the council was also increased from four plus the mayor to six plus the mayor.

Anaheim City Council members voted 3-2 on Nov. 17 to put off voting in the new District 3, a majority Latino section of the city, in next November’s election. Instead, voters in District 3 would vote for a new council member in November 2018.

Officials with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the California League of United Latin American Citizens accused Anaheim of violating the 14th Amendment and the federal Voting Rights Act.

“There is no better demonstration of how insidious discrimination can be than the efforts of those in power to delay a meaningful remedy,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel.

“We saw this in the aftermath of the 1954 decision in Brown v. Board, and we still see it today; Anaheim’s decision to delay the election in District 3 is a regrettably familiar and ill-disguised example of entrenched resistance to justice and rectitude.”

MALDEF officials say they will consider suing to enforce the law.

“The council’s actions are not just a matter of justice delayed,” said Denise Hulett, MALDEF’s national senior counsel.

“The council has deprived Latino voters of the remedy they won in litigation, of the form of government they overwhelmingly voted for in Measure L, and of the equal opportunity they expected to exercise by casting a meaningful vote in the 2016 election.”

The letter was addressed to Mayor Tom Tait, who voted against delaying the District 3 voting.

“It makes no sense,” Tait told City News Service of last month’s vote to delay voting in District 3. “The majority Latino district — that’s been the issue in our city and it makes no sense to exclude it.”

Tait did not take much stock in arguments that the councilman who represents what would be District 3 is James Vanderbilt, who is up for re- election as an at-large member in 2018 because Vanderbilt voted with Tait to let the residents in that district join the voting next November.

“Their argument doesn’t make sense,” said Tait, who noted he has backed district-by-district voting in the city since 2012.

“I lost that vote 3-2 as well,” Tait said. “I’ve been pushing for this for a long time. It’s been long enough — too long already. You know what they say, justice delayed is justice denied.”

Tait said if last month’s vote isn’t reversed at Tuesday’s City Council meeting then the city could find itself in front of a judge again.

“I think that would be the likely scenario, and there’s just no reason for it,” Tait said. “If just one of the three changes their mind you could fix this thing.”

— City News Service

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