Visalia faces California Voting Rights Act lawsuit

The city of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act, and doesn't have enough Latinos on its city council.
January 16, 2014 12:00:00 AM PST
The City of Visalia is facing legal action from a group of people who claim the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act and doesn't have enough Latinos on the city council.

Currently Visalia residents vote for their top city council candidates, and whoever gets the most votes is elected. The lawsuit says the city must instead divide itself into districts to give Latinos a voice.

A lawsuit filed against the City of Visalia claims in the history of the city, there has only been one Latino council member voted into office, despite Latinos making up 46% of Visalia's population. It claims the city's failure to elect council members based on districts is mostly to blame.

The suit claims the city is violating the California Voting Rights Act by not transitioning into district-based elections for the city council. Currently, the candidates with the highest percentage of votes are elected into the vacant city council seats.

"Their opinions and thoughts and desires are absolutely fairly represented in the council. Whether you have a person with a Hispanic last name serving on the council at this time -- no, there is not," said Leonard Herr, Attorney for the City of Visalia.

City attorney Leonard Herr said he is working cordially with the attorneys and group of people who filed the lawsuit, and hopes to come to a compromise soon. "I am optimistic given the city's desire to resolve this we may be able to get it resolved quickly and efficiently."

Council members have in the past publicly voiced their opinion on changing to district-based elections -- and they are split on the issue. Council Member Warren Gubler said he is all for dividing the city into districts. "I'm an attorney. I've read the California Voting Rights Act that seems to prefer district elections so as I see it as a city council person to do what's best for the community as a whole, I'd like to save the litigation cost."

Gubler said going to district elections, though, may not necessarily mean more Latinos in office. "By having 1 or 2 districts that are devoted to majority Hispanic populations here, that might limit their electability in other districts."

Both parties are scheduled to be in court on April 18th. The city is hoping they will have resolved the lawsuit by then, but there is still no indication on how a resolution might be reached.

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