Represent!

Politics, government and public life for Southern California

Court finds Palmdale's at-large elections violate Voting Rights Act

The mayor of Palmdale says the city will appeal a court ruling that found at-large elections are keeping African-American and Latino residents from having fair representation.
The mayor of Palmdale says the city will appeal a court ruling that found at-large elections are keeping African-American and Latino residents from having fair representation. City of Palmdale

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge has found the city of Palmdale's at-large elections have led to racial polarization. 

According to the court opinion issued Thursday, the city of Palmdale violated the California Voting Rights Act by continuing to hold at-large elections that disenfranchised African-American and Latino residents. More than half of Palmdale's population is Latino, yet of the city's five council members, just one is Latino. And the city has never had an African-American representative, even though blacks makes up 15 percent of Palmdale's population.

"Nobody likes to give up power. Nobody likes to share power. That's just a human condition," said R. Rex Parris, one of the attorneys who brought the case against Palmdale. He grew up in Palmdale and is now the mayor of nearby Lancaster.

"When you have diverse [cities] such as Lancaster and Palmdale, to bar minority representation in any fashion can only lead to more and more strife and more and more bad decisions," Parris said. 

But Palmdale Mayor Jim Ledford disagrees. He said Palmdale is an integrated city, and believes the appointed city commissions represent its diversity. Ledford believes the wave of lawsuits challenging cities with at-large elections is motivated by one thing: money.

"I think you look at the 20-year history, you see very little strife or conflict," Ledford said. "But now I believe — and this applies to all cities in California — we are under siege by these trial lawyers because this is a payday. This isn't about voting rights, this is about green. It's not about black, white or brown. It's about green."

In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Mark V. Mooney said he did not consider voter turnout or the effectiveness of past campaigns, only voting patterns. He pointed out that intent to discriminate is not required to prove a violation.

The judge said if no appeals are filed he will set a hearing to discuss the implementation of remedies to the problem. However, according to Ledford, Palmdale city officials will appeal the ruling.

The lawsuit was filed last year by a Palmdale resident. 

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