A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge has ruled that cumulative voting cannot be used in the 2016 Santa Clarita City Council election.
Cumulative voting – where people could choose to cast up to 3 votes for their favorite City Council member, was agreed upon as part of a California Voting Rights Act lawsuit lodged against the city by Democratic activists Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. The pair allege that the city’s at-large voting system, in use since the city was formed in 1987, is a barrier to Latino participation.
But on Sept. 14, after receiving a letter from California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, Judge Terry A. Green ruled that while it might be technically possible to rig the current ballot-tabulation machinery to handle cumulative voting, state law “does not define any cumulative voting ballot tabulation methods by which testing and certification criteria could be developed” by the Secretary of State’s office.
Padilla explained in his letter that any voting system “that has not been certified or tested for the purpose of which it is intended to be used requires testing and certification by my office.” The current system “has not been tested for use in a cumulative voting election environment by the Secretary of State’s office.”
Attorney Kevin Shenkman, who represents Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser, did not immediately respond to request for comment.
City attorney Joseph Montes said the next step is to draft the order imposing the terms of the settlement agreement.
“If (the other lawyers) object to the language and we can’t work it out, we will likely have another hearing,” Montes said. “If they don’t object the order, then we submit it to the court and the judge signs it. How much longer this will take depends on whether or not they object and whether or not we have to have another hearing.”
It could take a week or a month for another hearing, depending on the court schedule, Montes said.
The most substantive part of the settlement agreement that’s left is moving the City Council elections from April to November of even years, when Californians vote for governor or president. High-turnout elections tend to favor incumbents at the local level because of the costs associated with campaigning to lower-propensity voters. It’s unclear why the plaintiffs requested the move; the City Council had previously expressed interest in moving its eletions to November only to be rebuffed by the county. This time, the county has cleared the way.
Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser filed similar lawsuits against the Sulphur Springs School District, which is moving to trustee-area elections, and the Santa Clarita Community College District (COC), which had been planning to implement cumulative voting. The COC board was scheduled to discuss the matter at its Wednesday night meeting.