Anaheim City Council rejects district elections; ACLU, citizens committee criticize decision

Anaheim residents hold signs at an earlier city council meeting in support of a proposal to increase the number of city council members and establish voting districts.
Anaheim residents hold signs at an earlier city council meeting in support of a proposal to increase the number of city council members and establish voting districts.
Bear Guerra/KPCC

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A Citizens Advisory Committee has been studying ways to make Anaheim’s election system fairer. But Tuesday night, the city council rejected a recommendation to end city-wide elections and adopt a district system. Read the full report below.

The ACLU filed a lawsuit last year alleging that Anaheim’s at-large voting system violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act, which mandates fairer representation for minorities.

More than half of Anaheim’s residents are Latino, yet the city council is all white.

In response to the suit, the council appointed the 11-member citizens advisory committee to look into voting alternatives.

But after nine months of meetings and studies, committee member Bill Dalati says the council ignored their biggest piece of advice: Let Anaheim voters decide if they want to elect their council members by district.

“I don’t think it’s fair we worked for the whole year and they put us right where we started,” said Dalati. “It’s a total waste.”

After the council rejected the district model, they voted to consider a so-called hybrid version similar to what its neighbor Santa Ana: Council members would still be elected by the whole city, but they would have to live in their district.

Dalati says the committee studied that option, and concluded it wouldn’t make the city’s election system any fairer than the current one.

“It’s the same thing in my opinion,” said Dalati. “Special interests will rule. There’s no change whatsoever.”

Anaheim city councilwoman Kris Murray disagrees.

She introduced the motion for the hybrid option and she says it’s preferable because it allows the broadest level of representation.

“Every council member will continue to serve every resident of the city and be accountable to every resident,” said Murray. “A single member district system where you only represent the residents in your designated area limits the governance available to our citizens in Anaheim."

The council voted 4-1 to make a final decision by July 2nd to send the hybrid option to voters, which is a week before a judge is expected to rule on the ACLU’s case against Anaheim.

The judge said in April he wanted to wait to see what changes the city would make before ruling.

ACLU staff attorney Bardis Vakili says the city has shown, once again, it's unwilling to have district elections.

“From where I sit, they have been reluctant, dragging their feet, kicking and screaming,” said Vakili.

He added the hybrid model wouldn't make elections any fairer.

“We certainly will be pushing for the case to move forward quickly because the next round of elections is coming up soon and if we don’t get this resolved we’re going to have another illegal election take place,” said Vakili.

Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait represented the lone vote against the hybrid proposal, saying it didn’t address the ACLU’s concerns and the city would likely lose in court.

He pointed out Anaheim has already spent close to half a million dollars defending the suit.

Citizens Advisory Committee on Elections and Community Involvement Recommendations to the Anaheim City Coun...