Is Anaheim's at-large voting system unfair to Latinos? The American Civil Liberties Union says yes and it has sued the city, alleging violations of California's Voting Rights Act.
A judge is scheduled to hear arguments in the case Tuesday.
Orange County Superior Court Judge Franz Miller last met with the two sides in April when he granted Anaheim's request for a delay. The city argued the judge should wait to see what changes the city made on its own.
Those changes came last week, when the city council voted 3-2 to move ahead with a new election system. But it wasn't the system many were hoping for.
Under the plan, council members would still be elected by the entire city, but they would have to live in one of Anaheim's still to-be-determined voting districts.
ACLU attorney Bardis Vakili says this so-called hybrid system only strengthens his case.
“It actually magnifies the problem,” Vakili said. “It was somewhat brazen what they did."
The council's vote largely ignored the advice of a Citizens Advisory Committee that was formed in response to the lawsuit. The panel spent months studying Anaheim's voting system and concluded that the city should adopt district voting, which most other large California cities use.
But Councilwoman Kris Murray argued that districts mean elected officials aren't accountable to the entire city. She also pointed to research showing that when they've been on the ballot, Latino candidates perform well with Anaheim voters.
"The city and our electorate has been very successful in electing people of all ethnic classes that are stepping up to serve, especially of the Hispanic community,” Murray said last week. “That community is successful in our city in an at-large system."
The ACLU's Vakili says the numbers show otherwise. He points to Anaheim's current five-member city council — which is entirely white — and he argues the city's at-large voting system has a long history of shutting out Latinos, who now make up over half the population.
"Only three Latinos have ever been elected to the city council in Anaheim," Vakili said.
A coalition of Latino activists boycotted last week's council meeting, instead making a YouTube video about why they weren't there (see below).
"I don't believe our voices are being heard,” said Arturo Ferreras, a neighborhood leader in South Anaheim. “It's a circus."
If a judge sides with the ACLU, the case could go to trial by winter.