(Photo Credit: William Shewbridge)
The city of Anaheim is home to the “Happiest Place on Earth,” but if you ask a majority of its residents they’ll probably tell you it’s far from happy.
A divided city council recently voted, 3-2, to put a hybrid election model on the ballot next June. Right now, the city council has at-large elections, meaning members are elected by the whole city, however those council members must now live in the district they represent.
“I see a lot of problems with this voting system. Number one, it’s clear that at-large elections, which is what Anaheim currently has, has a potential to discriminate,” said Dr. Fernando Guerra, Director of the Thomas and Dorothy Leavey Center for the Study of Los Angeles and a professor of Political Science and Chicana/o Studies.
Latinos make up 53 percent of the population, but “they are only about 30 percent of the voters. So if every Latino voted, that is eligible to vote, and has a system that is racially polarized, even though they’re half the population at 30 percent of the vote, they would not win one single seat. So the system, clearly, clearly discriminates.”
“What Anaheim has decided is a hybrid that does exist in other cities where there is a residency requirement where the candidate has to live in that district but yet again everybody in the city gets to vote for that person,” said Dr. Guerra.
There is yet another problem with the current system. Dr. Guerra points out there is “way over representation in some neighborhoods than others. Almost all of the council members come from Anaheim Hills as do most of the candidates.”
The council also voted, 2 to 3, against letting voters decide on district elections.
“There are plenty of cases where Latinos do not vote Latino. In largely Latino districts, overwhelming Latinos voted to elect a non-Latino cause they felt that person was a better representative.”
District elections, according to Dr. Guerra, would be one solution, but there there’s more the city could do.
“Even Disneyland has districts—you have your Tomorrowland, your Frontierland, so if it’s good for Disneyland, it ought to be good for Anaheim.”
“Number one change the at-large system to a district system, number two, you have to have fair drawing of the lines.”
Political misrepresentation in the city is the focus of a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union. The organization, representing the Latino residents, claim the at large violates the California Voting Rights Act.
“This clearly violates the voting rights—it is diluting the votes of Latinos in the city. And the information is overwhelming to show that. From a social science perspective there is no doubt that the Latino vote is being diluted in Anaheim,” said Dr. Guerra.
“To me, the ACLU will win this because it’s a clear violation the problem is it will take time and resources and it continues to create tension amongst the city.
“There’s an old, old political adage, “power is never given, it is taken.” Power either has to be taken by the voters or the court system to say you can’t have this unfair system.”