60% of Compton is Latino and yet, no Latino has ever held a city office. 8 Latinos have run for city council since 1969, but none were victorious in the traditionally African-American community. Today, three Latinos from the Latino Chamber of Commerce are taking Compton to court to combat what they argue is racially polarized voting. They are suing the city under the California Voting Rights act and if they win, they want to restructure the city council elections through a complicated redistricting process that would give more opportunity to Latino and minority candidates. Compton’s city council is chosen at large, and where there is racially polarized voting, that can mean few opportunities for minority candidates. Today’s debate echoes the one that took place decades ago, before White Flight and political organizing put the political power in the hands of Compton’s black residents. A move to district-elections has opened the doors to minorities in cities like San Francisco and throughout the South but is it the answer in a city like Compton with only a 7% voter turnout? Is a move to district elections the answer or is the problem more fundamental than that?
Louis Desipio, Associate Professor of Political Science and Chicano/Latino Studies at UC Irvine
Joaquin Avila, attorney for the Latino voters in the Compton case; Director, National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative at Seattle University School of Law