vote 640 360Costa Mesa will pay $55,000 to help resolve a claim that the city’s current election system dilutes the voting power of Latino residents.

As part of the settlement, which the City Council unanimously approved last week, the city will seek voter approval in November to change to a district-based system for electing council members. The council approved that plan April 19. In such a system, the city would be divided into voting areas, with each area electing a council member to represent it, the Los Angeles Times reported. The five Costa Mesa council members currently are elected by voters citywide in an at-large system.

The city agreed to pay $55,000 to cover attorneys’ costs for those who made the claim — Costa Mesa resident Eloisa Rangel and the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a nonprofit that seeks to “empower Latinos and other minorities by increasing their participation in the American democratic process,” according to its website, The Times reported.

The claimants’s attorney, Kevin Shenkman, had threatened to sue Costa Mesa, alleging in a letter that the use of at-large voting violated the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 by reducing the power of the city’s Latino residents to “elect candidates of their choice or otherwise influence the outcome of Costa Mesa’s council elections.”

No Latino candidate has been elected to the Costa Mesa City Council, according to Shenkman, who has been involved in several voting rights cases, The Times reported. Latinos made up about 36 percent of the city’s population as of the 2010 census. Faced with the specter of a potentially costly lawsuit, city officials said it made sense to start the process of changing the election system, according to the newspaper.

—City News Service

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