UPDATE ADDS REACTION OF KEVIN SHENKMAN FROM SHENKMAN & HUGHES
Newhall School District governing board members directed Superintendent Marc Winger to “investigate the process of initiating a change to cumulative voting and even-year elections in order to address potential concerns under the California Voting Rights Act,” an official said Tuesday.
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The election change was approved at the governing board’s meeting in response to the district’s monitoring of recent CVRA lawsuits in the area, according to district officials.
The Newhall School District will change its elections “assuming recent settlement agreements initiating the transition to cumulative voting and even year elections are held to be legally valid,” according to officials.
Six Santa Clarita Valley school districts have been contacted by Shenkman & Hughes regarding alleged violations of the CVRA, as well as the city of Santa Clarita.
The suits and letters all claim the voting rights of Hispanic voters are being disenfranchised by racially polarized voting.
The violations disallow Hispanic voters the opportunity to elect their candidate of choice, according to the lawsuits.
Three SCV entities, the Santa Clarita Community College District, the Santa Clarita City Council and the Sulphur Springs School District were all served with lawsuits last June, which were all settled as of last month to varying ends.
Newhall School District officials “monitored and examined the issues and activity” for 18 months and came up with two possible remedies, according to the board’s agenda: implement district-based seat elections or request a “cumulative voting” process combined with even-year elections.
That was one of two options looked at by district officials, the other being a move to district-based elections.
Kevin Shenkman of Shenkman & Hughes said he was “disturbed” by the Newhall School District’s criticism of district-based elections, “because it reveals a profound lack of understanding of the issue of vote dilution,” he stated in an email.
As of today, nobody from Newhall School District has contacted the firm, he said.
“There is a clear path for school districts to resolve the issue of vote dilution addressed by the California Voting Rights Act – a path that more than 100 California school districts have taken in just the last five years – and that is to adopt district-based elections through a request to the County Committee on School District Organization,” Shenkman stated.
“District-based voting in small district like Newhall, which experiences low voter participation, could allow election of officials by just a handful of voters in a given district,” according to Newhall School District officials.
“That ‘handful of voters in a given district’ are the Latinos who have gone unrepresented for far too long in Newhall School District, and as a result of their lack of representation, (the district) has been allowed to segregate its Latino students from its non-Hispanic white students,” Shenkman added.
The staff report cited six reasons for their preferred electoral change, and four additional measures the district could undertake — a resolution blending several of the already existing remedies in settlements with other districts.
Tuesday’s discussion followed a letter from Shenkman & Hughes sent June 14 to four Santa Clarita Valley school districts, including the Newhall, Castaic Union, Saugus Union and William S. Hart Union High school districts, asking them to enter into voluntary discussions of remedies for alleged CVRA violations.
The letter was sent days after the Santa Clarita Community College District announced its settlement, the last of three active lawsuits.
Under a cumulative voting system, in a three-seat race, a voter could select three candidates on his or her ballot, or give one candidate three votes.
The Hart district recently agreed to look at moving to districts as part of a proactive move to address CVRA concerns, according to district officials.
The letter to the Newhall School District suggests “judicial relief” would be sought if officials make no attempt to discuss a remedy by Wednesday.
The CVRA letter to the Newhall School District also claims the effects from the lack of minority representation are “stark and palpable.” It points out the district’s population is nearly 30 percent Hispanic, yet there is no Hispanic board member.
The letter from Shenkman & Hughes, as well as statements from Kevin Shenkman, previously indicated a move to district-based elections would be the needed remedy for the Newhall School District, in order to avoid legal action.
“We hope that the school districts will receive these letters and decide not to go down the path of Palmdale, because we all know where that leads,” said Shenkman, who represented two plaintiffs in three lawsuits and sent all four letters, in a previous interview. “If they decide to go to district-based elections, then we will make exactly zero dollars, and we will be thrilled.”
The Sulphur Springs School District agreed to go to districts as part of its settlement agreement. The community college district agreed to move to districts once a majority district can be established, and agreed to move its elections.
The city of Santa Clarita agreed to move its elections to even-numbered years in November and adopt cumulative voting.
The Saugus Union and Castaic school districts authorized their staffs to evaluate the situation and provide direction.
No CVRA lawsuit has ever been successfully defended.
Below are the reasons given by Newhall School District officials for their change in their agenda:
1) The Governing Board recognizes the benefit of representation of all stakeholders on the board, given our district’s ethnic make up.
2) District-based voting in small district like Newhall, which experiences low voter participation, could allow election of officials by just a handful of voters in a given district.
3) Even year elections often generate greater voter participation. When combined with cumulative voting the District anticipates there may be an increase in focused voting.
4) Cumulative voting and increased voter participation may potentially provide the opportunity to increase the voting power of the minority voting blocs within the district.
5) An even year at-large election with cumulative voting allows all voters to provide direction by having a say in the election of all members of the board.
6) An at-large election with cumulative voting allows elected officials to maintain a district-wide perspective rather than create the possibility of a perspective focused only on a small section of the district.
District officials also provided on their agenda additional measures that could be implemented:
1) Offer the County, or any other entity that organizes the district’s election, the opportunity to establish polling places at school sites with high numbers of minority voters in the nearby community.
2) Hold candidate information nights for potential candidates, describing the position, election process, and campaign laws. Provide meeting notices and all information in Spanish. Expand outreach efforts.
3) If, after a judge finds that cumulative voting is a viable solution, LA County is unable or unwilling to conduct cumulative voting and even year elections on the district’s behalf, consider consolidation of elections with other entities that choose to run independent elections in even years. Explore this possibility with the City of Santa Clarita and the Santa Clarita Community College District.
4) Conduct a CVRA Analysis Study of voting patterns after the next Census is available to monitor the need for area-based elections.
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Source: Santa Clarita News