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Minorities Lack Representation In Many California Cities

Aired 3/12/12 on KPBS News.

A California Watch report finds 34 majority-minority cities in California have only one or no minorities on the city council. Part of the reason is at-large elections in which voters - often white – choose the winners.

— In many California cities where ethnic minorities are a majority of the population, those communities have little or no representation on their city councils.

The news outlet California Watch found that 14 cities with majority Latino populations have no minority on the city council, and another 20 cities with majority Latino or Asian populations have only one city council representative.

Part of the reason is that many cities use at-large elections, in which voters citywide choose from the same candidates, and the candidates with the most votes win.

But that system can allow small pockets of the most active – often white – voters to choose the winners. In recent years, activists and lawyers have been using the California Voting Rights Act to challenge that system.

Escondido City Hall

Above: Escondido City Hall

That’s forced many cities to switch to district elections in which candidates run in just one section of the city. That makes it easier for ethnic minorities to elect candidates from their own communities because they don't have to compete with the votes of whites or other ethnic groups that live in other parts of town.

Several people sued the City of Escondido in December to try to force district elections there. Latinos are almost half of its population, but there is only one Latino on the city council.

The first hearing on the lawsuit is scheduled for March 16.

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