Santa Clarita faced with potential lawsuit over at-large election system

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The city of Santa Clarita has received a petition from a Walnut Creek attorney on behalf of a group of voters to comply with the California Voting Rights Act, alleging the local government’s at-large elections dilute the votes of Latino residents. 

The letter from Scott Rafferty, received by the Santa Clarita Clerk’s Office on Feb. 4, states that Neighborhood Elections Now, “a group including Santa Clarita voters of a variety of races and ethnicities,” is asking the City Council “to abolish at-large elections and create single-member districts.” 

“We give notice of our belief, supported by evidence, that Latino electors within the city have different electoral preferences than those who are not Latino, as demonstrated in the returns for ballot questions and contests for office,” the letter reads. “Therefore, the use of at-large voting dilutes the electoral influence of Latinos as a community, which violates the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).” 

When reached for comment about the petition, Rafferty referred The Signal to the letter sent to the City Council, which was obtained through a public records request. When asked how many residents Rafferty represented, he responded, “more than one.”

A section of CVRA, as highlighted in the letter, states that an “at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters who are members of a protected class.” 

A violation occurs, under the law, if “it is shown that racially polarized voting occurs in elections,” to which the petition states that the “illegal at-large system has entrenched incumbents who were elected 20 years ago when Santa Clarita was 80% white and only 20% Latino.” 

“The city is evaluating the letter at this time,” city Communications Manager Carrie Lujan said Friday. “As this letter is a statutorily required precursor to filing litigation under the California Voting Rights Act, the city has no further comment on the letter at this time.”  

In 2016, the city settled a similar matter in the Soliz and Sanchez-Frazer v. Santa Clarita case, which resulted in the City Council’s elections being held in November, as it is currently set, rather than in April, of even-numbered years. The settlement called for the city to pay about $600,000 to the plaintiffs. 

That lawsuit also alleged that the balloting system diluted Latino votes. 

“This is an effort to initiate a collaborative process to comply with the CVRA on a basis that will likely please the overwhelmingly majority of voters in Santa Clarita,” the petition, signed by Rafferty, read. “The council should seize this opportunity to resolve a liability that will not go away until district elections are implemented.” 

Rafferty has done similar work across California, filing lawsuits regarding CVRA violations within multiple school districts and cit

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