Santa Clarita officials settled a lawsuit over an alleged California Voting Rights Act violation Tuesday with a closed session vote.
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The city is set to move City Council elections to even-numbered years and employ cumulative voting.
The decision was made in closed session before Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but it’s not going to affect the ballots that voters will have for the April 8 election, officials said.
“The settlement represents an opportunity for all Santa Clarita citizens to have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice — no longer will a bare majority be able to dominate 100 percent of the City Council,” said Kevin Shenkman, the lawyer for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Jim Soliz and Rosemarie Sanchez-Fraser. “(Soliz and Sanchez-Fraser) should be commended for their efforts to make that a reality.”
The end result will be that the two incumbents who would have been up for election in April 2016 — Councilmen TimBen Boydston and Bob Kellar — will be up for election November 2016.
Marsha McLean was the lone vote against the closed session vote.
“Sometimes you have to look at what’s right and wrong, and you have to fight what’s wrong,” McLean said, adding she was not opposed to moving the elections, one of the terms of the settlement.
Voters will still get three votes, however, the move to cumulative voting, or weighted voting, gives voters the opportunity to vote for one candidate up to three times.
Both changes are expected to increase voter turnout, part of how alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act have been remedied in the past.
Cumulative voting is the predominate means of balloting used to select a board of directors in corporate America.
In dozens of communities where cumulative voting is used, it’s the result of lawsuits stemming from the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Fighting the lawsuit “would be very costly to the city,” costing more than $1.5 million, according to city attorney Joe Montes in a statement read before Tuesday’s City Council meeting.
The attorney’s fees for the plaintiffs will be paid by Santa Clarita, which is expected to range between $400-600,000.
The settlement followed a six-hour negotiation, according to court documents.
Related article: Santa Clarita Officials Discuss California Voting Rights Act Lawsuit
While the Santa Clarita’s attorney estimated a potential cost of $1.5 million to fight the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit, it actually could have been quite higher.
In a filing with a similar lawsuit against the city of Palmdale, the legal fees are expected to reach approximately $5 million, according to legal documents.
City Councilman TimBen Boydston said he voted for the settlement for “pragmatic reasons,” because city officials could have spent millions fighting the lawsuit with nothing to show for it.
While that suit is still being appealed by Palmdale officials, a judge ruled against Palmdale officials in the initial ruling, and the fee filing is due within 60 days of the initial judgement.
No California Voting Rights Act lawsuit has been successfully been litigated by a defendant.
The Sulphur Springs School District has a closed session item that involves discussion of a similar lawsuit on its agenda.
“The City Council and staff also deserve praise for finding a resolution that will remedy the problem of minority vote dilution,” Shenkman said.
Palmdale officials “recalcitrance” served as a stark contrast, Shenkman said, while also commending the work of Antonio Piazza, a world-renowned mediator who helped bring a quick resolution to the suit.
Related article: Voting Rights Expert Looks At Conditions For A CVRA Violation
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