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ABC Unified School District Sued Over California Voter Rights Act

UPDATED AT 4:53 P.M.

By Brian Hews and Brian Hews

The ABC Unified School District is being sued on grounds that it broke the California Voter Right’s Act, Los Cerritos Community Newspaper can confirm.

On Wednesday, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund announced that they will be “joining” forces with the law firm Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho in the suit against the ABCUSD.

The suit contends that the Cerritos based public school system “currently uses an at-large method to elect its Board of Trustees, which has denied Latino residents the opportunity to elect Board Members of their choice for more than fifteen years.”

ABCUSD is comprised of Artesia, Cerritos, Hawaiian Gardens, part of Lakewood, Long Beach, Norwalk.  The legal action was filed with the Los Angeles County Superior Court and sites that the school district violated California Election Code Sections 14025 – 32.

“With the growing Latino student population nationwide, it is particularly important that our democratic processes work to secure adequate opportunity for the Latino community to elect its representatives to participate in school governance,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, President and General Counsel of MALDEF.

According to MALDEF, twenty-three percent of the current voting-age population within ABCUSD is Latino.

“There is no Latino representation on the seven-member Board of Trustees. ABC USD’s at-large election process does not require candidates to reside in any particular portion or zone of the district, and any eligible voter may vote for any candidate, regardless of where that voter resides. All seven of the current Board members reside in one city, Cerritos, of the seven cities that comprise the ABCUSD,” the statement provided LCCN claimed.

MALDEF and Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho argue that this method has led to “vote dilution, and has prevented Latinos from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of Board elections.”

“Moreover, patterns of racially polarized voting in ABC USD elections have been mobilization of Latino voting power, and have allowed the non-Latino super-majority to overcome Latino voting strength,” the statement from MALDEF claimed.

MALDEF and Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho argue for the “implementation of a district-based election system, which would provide all voters, regardless of race, an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and influence election outcomes.”

Laura Ho, partner at Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho and attorney for the plaintiffs said, “ABCUSD’s at-large method of election violates the California Voting Rights Act because racially polarized voting has resulted in vote dilution for Latino voters and denied them effective political participation in elections to the Board.”

Olga Rios, one of the plaintiffs in the suit, attended ABCUSD schools for her entire K-12 education and has two children in the district.

Rios applied for an open position on the Board two years ago after then member Mark Pulido was elected to a seat on the Cerritos City Council.

Rios, and around a dozen other applicants applied to fill Pulido’s unexpired term and was interviewed.

But, MALDEF officials claim, that the district “decided not to appoint anybody to the position until the next election, despite Olga’s exceptional credentials in education, including a Master’s Degree in education from Harvard University.”

Rios said in a prepared statement that, “As much as we all like to dream that we now live in a colorblind society, it has been clear to my community for some time now that the ABC school district’s at-large method of election prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of our choice.”

Also named in the lawsuit as Plaintiffs are Mariana Rios, also a resident of Hawaiian Gardens  and Thomas Chavez, a resident of Norwalk.

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“The right to vote is fundamental to democracy in the U.S., and must be protected for all citizens regardless of race,” MALDEF claims.

LCCN will have additional updates on the lawsuit from ABCUSD officials, as well as from elected members of the Board of Education. LCCN will also publish an article on voter patterns inside the ABCUSD this Friday.

See complaint filed against ABCUSD (PDF), click here.

 

 

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