Prior to the letter threatening a lawsuit over the N-MUSD’s voting system, an attorney in the law office of Robert Rubin explained in a separate letter the firm’s opinion of the pending case:

“We believe that the Newport-Mesa School District’s election system discriminates against Latino voters, and hurts the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice or their ability to influence the outcome of an election. Currently, the Newport-Mesa School District Board is elected “at-large” despite the fact there are “trustee areas.” In an at-large election, all the members of the board are elected from those who live within the entire school district as a whole. For example, a trustee who resides in “trustee area #7” will have to campaign in all the trustee areas to be elected. 

 “However, at-large elections have been found to be unlawful, especially in cases where there has been a history of no minorities being elected. Further, it is well understood that at-large election systems dilute the voting power of minority groups. We believe that these issues are occurring in both Costa Mesa and in the Newport-Mesa School District. Costa Mesa is 35% Latino, but no Latino has ever been elected to the City Council. Further, Latino students make up 44% of the school district’s population. 

 “Given their significant population, Latinos ought to enjoy some representation on the Newport-Mesa School District but their voting power is diluted under an at-large system. The remedy for this type of disenfranchisement is often the adoption of district-based elections. In a district-based election, the District would be apportioned into districts and only voters residing in a particular district would select candidates from that district

 “For example, since there are seven seats on the Newport-Mesa School District, the district could create true districts from its trustee areas, or reapportion the seven areas, with one district that includes Westside Costa Mesa. Under this system, all candidates for that seat must reside in Westside Costa Mesa, and are solely elected by the voters who reside in Westside Costa Mesa.  Given the large percentage of Latinos residing in Westside Costa Mesa, this community should be able to elect candidates of its choice at least in that district.”

Last night’s vote to study a new map for area representation was nothing more than an attempt to mollify critics of the system. The end result of this study will show that the board should still be made up of seven members – it was stated as much in last night’s meeting. The study will also recommend some changes to the area’s map, but nothing that will disrupt the status quo. As for the requirement that all candidates for that seat must reside in Westside Costa Mesa, I have two words: Walt Davenport.

Changing from an at-large to a district or area voting system will help but something else is needed.  The complete change in the process of increasing minority representation will not come until the members of the school board are paid a salary – a living wage that will allow poorer residents to quit their jobs – or both of them – and take a position on the dais instead. Until that happens, taxpayers are likely to get more of the same – people who are well off enough to make it on the $400+ school board club compensation.

That compensation change has to occur in Sacramento. I would like to see Rubin’s office, or any law office, address this restrictive policy with the California Department of Education. Until then, do not expect too much change via a district voting system.

And I am certain that that suits the current school board club just fine.

Steve Smith