Santa Barbara, Calif.—After months of discussion and failed promises by the Santa Barbara City Council to review/reform the current election system, a lawsuit was filed today against the City of Santa Barbara demanding that district-based elections replace the current at-large voting system so that Latino voters would be properly represented on the city council. The lawsuit was filed by A. Barry Cappello on behalf of the plaintiffs, all Santa Barbara registered voters. Frank Banales et.al vs. City of Santa Barbara, Santa Barbara Superior Court, July 29, 2014, Case No. 1468167
The lawsuit charges that the City of Santa Barbara is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 (CVRA) because its at-large method of elections dilutes the votes of Latino residents, which results in Latinos being denied effective political representation on the Santa Barbara City Council. The lawsuit is demanding that the City of Santa Barbara implement district-based elections to comply with the CVRA.
The Latino population makes up 38 percent of the city population yet only one Latino has been elected to the city council in the last 10 years. Santa Barbara’s Latino population is geographically concentrated in neighborhoods. The current at-large system elects candidates receiving the most votes citywide, creating a voting environment where Latino voters, despite their large numbers, cannot elect candidates of their choice to the city council. This type of ethnic voter dilution is unlawful under the CVRA.
“Cities throughout the State of California are required to change their at-large system of voting, and to implement a district-based election system when their at-large system dilutes minority votes, depriving minority voters of the right to elect candidates of their choice. The purpose of the California Voting Rights Act is to ensure that the minority populations can have an equal right to vote for their respective governing body,” says Cappello, managing partner in the Santa Barbara law firm of Cappello & Noël, LLP.
“Santa Barbara has refused to act to protect its significant Latino community, which has been denied its rights,” says Cappello. “These citizens have banded together to bring a lawsuit to request the courts intervene and protect their rights as preserved in the California Voting Rights Act. City council members are in no hurry to see a change to the at-large election system. Under the current system, they know that they can control elections, and keep getting re-elected, by preventing neighborhoods from voting for candidates that truly represent the neighborhood’s interests. It’s an old trick and it’s illegal.”