In a written letter, lawyers with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) are demanding that the nine-campus Los Angeles Community College District scrap its at-large method of electing trustees.
MALDEF alleges the voting system violates the 2001 California Voting Rights Act because Latinos comprise a third of the eligible voters and their votes are diluted by the other groups that turnout to vote.
“The current system prevents Latino community members from electing candidates of their choice to serve,” said MALDEF lawyer Matthew Barragan. “That’s called vote dilution, when the minority community – here in this case the Latino community – is unable to have a voice in the local elections.”
Also at issue, Barragan said, is the responsiveness of the trustees to the educational needs of the district’s Latino students, who make up 56 percent of the student population.
There is currently one Latino, Ernest Moreno, on the LACCD board of trustees.
“When I was brought to the board in 2014, there were three,” said LACCD Chancellor Francisco Rodriguez. One trustee was elected to the state legislature and another didn’t see reelection.
Rodriguez said that in the last year and a half, trustees eliminated election runoffs and shifted elections to even-numbered years.
“We believe that those are two formidable and important steps forward that will increase voter representation, voter turnout, and voter diversity,” he said.
MALDEF’s demand letter asked the LACCD to respond by November 4, 2016, but if the response was not satisfactory MALDEF would seek the change through the courts.
Both sides said they’re open to negotiating a solution.
In recent years community colleges in Cerritos, Compton, and Santa Clarita have switched from at large to district trustee elections.
But unlike other community colleges, LACCD’s at-large election method was set into California’s Education Code in 1976 by lawmakers.
“Even if the district desired to move to a by-district elections process, it would need legislative change in order for us to do that,” Rodriguez said.
MALDEF’s Barragan said he’s aware of that detail and said that a court-approved settlement could compel LACCD to change its method without an act of the legislature.