Latino activists consider voting rights lawsuit against Orange County

Photo by Terry Chay/Flickr (Creative Commons)

Activists in Orange County are considering a voting rights lawsuit after a Latino supervisorial candidate lost a special election last month. Some activist say county district lines split Latino residents and dilute their voting power.

This month, Vietnamese American attorney Andrew Do was sworn into office as First District Supervisor after beating career Latino politician Lou Correa in a special election by 43 votes.

There are now three Asian American supervisors and two white supervisors.

“(Latinos) have no voice in the county government,” said Latino activist Art Montez. “No voice in health care, they have no voice as to what public parks are going to get.

Latinos make up 34.2 percent of the population in Orange County, according to Census estimates in 2013.  Most live in Anaheim and Santa Ana, the two largest Latino majority cities in the county.

But those cities are split among three districts on the Board of Supervisors, with the majority of Latinos concentrated in the First and Fourth Districts.

Montez said he and other activists have been thinking about whether to challenge the district boundaries in federal court.

Registered Latino voters dominate the First District, with 36 percent of the registration, according to statistics from Political Data Inc. In the Fourth District, they make up 30 percent of the registered voters.

Robert Rubin is a civil rights attorney specializing in elections law. He helped write California’s 2001 voting rights law.

He said the county board’s district lines could violate the federal voting rights law that protects minorities from discriminatory voting practices. It prohibits drawing districts that dilute the voting power of minorities.

“If you can show Latinos are a majority in one or more districts,” then there is a potential case, Rubin said.

He said the district must be geographically compact. Minorities must make up at least half of the voting age population in the district.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors redrew district boundaries in 2011 pitting Vietnamese Americans against Latinos in the First District.

Vietnamese American voters are a large block in this district at 24 percent, according to Political Data, Inc. They made up 46 percent of the early mail-in ballots pushing Do to the top in last month’s special election.

Not everyone wants to sue the county for voter discrimination. Democrat political consultant Claudio Gallegos said Latinos still make up the majority in the First District.

“If more Latinos in Santa Ana and east Garden Grove had turned out to vote, the numbers could have swung (Correa’s) way,” he said.  

Gallegos said although, a simple majority Latino voter district can easily be drawn in Orange County, it may not solve the problem of voter apathy among Latinos.

Meanwhile, a recount requested by Correa ended late Friday with no change in the final numbers. An attorney for Correa has said they were looking for evidence of voter fraud or inconsistencies in the way vote-by-mail ballots were counted.

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