There is a news story in today’s OC Register about the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund suing a school district:

“The Newport-Mesa Unified School District board is the latest government body to be challenged for its election system not being representative of the community’s ethnic makeup.

“The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, known as MALDEF, sent a letter on Friday to the district, saying it is denying “Latino residents the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice” and demanding that it switch from its at-large voting system to district elections. In district elections candidates would be chosen from geographically defined districts.

“In response to lawsuits or threats of suits from civil rights advocacy groups, several elected bodies in Orange County and statewide are implementing district elections, including in Anaheim, Buena Park, Newport-Mesa and Garden Grove.

“The letter sent to the Newport-Mesa district accuses it of violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2001, which prohibits using at-large elections if it would impair the ability of minority groups to elect candidates of their choice.

“U.S. Census data indicates Latinos make up 42 percent of the population within the district, which serves Buena Park, Newport-Mesa and La Habra, and more than half of the student population, the letter says. The district’s total enrollment is 13,770.

“’MALDEF is making the demand for changing to district elections in response to complaints from Latinos living within the school district,’ said Matthew Barragan, staff attorney. ’I don’t know the exact number, but I can tell you that we received enough calls to warrant an investigation and the first step is to put the district on notice that they are violating the law,’ Barragan said. ‘This demand is part of MALDEF’s continuing effort to ensure that Latinos have access to the political process.’”

“Only one Latino candidate has been elected to the board within the past 20 years, the letter points out.

“In fact, the makeup of the board has changed very little over the last 30 or so years.

“[NAME], elected to the board in 2012, was the first new board member in 22 years and the first Latino in at least that time frame.

“[NAME] questioned the necessity for district elections, saying that all five board members are already scattered throughout Newport-Mesa. ‘All five of us are concerned about every student in the district,’ she said. ‘There’s much to be said for stability in all aspects of education.’

“None of the five board members live in Buena Park or La Habra, and [NAME] said district elections could change that.

“’I‘ve always wanted someone to be from those areas, because I don’t want those students to be left out,’” [NAME] said.

“The Garden Grove Unified School District is changing to district elections beginning in 2016, after receiving similar letters from MALDEF and the League of United Latin American Citizens.

“And the city of Garden Grove is undergoing a demographic study after MALDEF threatened to sue if the city didn’t take steps to fix racially polarized voting.

“Newport-Mesa and Anaheim will also be implementing district elections for city council races in 2016, both after being sued by residents represented by the American Civil Liberties Union.

“The Buena Park City Council didn’t wait to be sued before voting unanimously in May to implement district elections in 2016.”

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Some readers may have realized that the geography is off or may have read other discrepancies in the Register story. That’s because I substituted “Newport-Mesa” for “Fullerton.”

  • The Latino population in Costa Mesa is about 33%.
  • Three board members have a total of about 80 years of time on the N-MUSD board.
  • I do not recall a Latino member serving on the N-MUSD board in the 28 years I’ve lived here.

Just sayin’…

You can read the real, full story here: http://www.ocregister.com/articles/district-672368-elections-Newport-Mesa.html

Steve Smith

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