PALMDALE – The City of Palmdale has reached an agreement with the plaintiffs in the California Voting Rights Act case and will hold a series of community meetings in the future to explain the upcoming changes to its method of electing its City Council members.
Under the settlement agreement that was reached Wednesday night, Palmdale agreed to pay $4.5 million to the plaintiffs’ attorneys and implement a new voting system, beginning with the November 2016 election. [View the settlement agreement with supporting exhibits here.]
Palmdale will be divided into four districts, using a map that was drafted by the plaintiffs and ordered by the trial court. There will be one councilmember per district. Residents will no longer be able to vote for the entire city council, but rather will vote only for the councilmember for their district. The seat of Mayor will continue to be a citywide, at large vote. Palmdale will hold its elections in November of even numbered years to coincide with either the presidential or gubernatorial election cycles, and the city will request that the Los Angeles County Registrar consolidate Palmdale’s election with the general election.
The voting rights lawsuit alleged that Palmdale’s at-large method of electing members to its City Council prevented Latino and African-American residents from electing candidates of their choice.
“Such vote dilution is illegal under both the federal and California Voting Rights Acts and the courts agreed that it was taking place in Palmdale,” stated attorney R. Rex Parris who represented the plaintiffs. Parris is the mayor of Lancaster, which uses the at-large method of electing members to its City Council.
In 2013, after a trial, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney ruled that Palmdale had violated the California Voting Rights Act and ordered the city to propose changes to its voting process to address the violation. Palmdale appealed and continued with its at-large election in November 2013. In that election, Fred Thompson became the first African-American to win a seat on the Palmdale City Council.
“I’m in office in spite of, not because of, this lawsuit,” Thompson stated. “My story demonstrates that this lawsuit was both unnecessary and disingenuous.”
The City of Palmdale will pursue action to encourage the California Legislature to fix the California Voting Rights Act “which in its current form leaves cities, counties and school districts susceptible to frivolous lawsuits,” Palmdale city officials said in a press release.
“It’s not just Palmdale that’s being victimized. To date, and to our knowledge, there are 25 such cases across the state, and the taxpayers are currently on the hook for more than $13.8 million dollars – with the legal meter running,” stated City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy. City officials listed all the voting rights cases in California and settlement costs. [View the list here.]
Palmdale will hold three public meetings (on dates to be announced) to inform the public on its new voting system. All current Palmdale Councilmembers will remain in office until the next Council is sworn in following the November 2016 election.
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