At-Large Voting System Impairs Latino Voter Participation

SAN DIEGO, CA - Today, MALDEF filed suit against Fallbrook Public Utility District, in San Diego Superior Court, for violating the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The District uses an at-large method to elect its Board Members, and as a result there has been no Latino representation on the Board for decades. MALDEF filed the suit on behalf of Fallbrook registered voters who seek a court order that will block future at-large elections in the District, and require the District to design and implement a by-district election method that would provide voter equity.

"Public utility districts, particularly those as powerful as Fallbrook, must comply with the CVRA," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "Governance in a democracy should be open and fair in every district and for every board, no matter how specialized."

In March, MALDEF sent a letter to several Fallbrook Utility District Board members demanding that the election system be changed to comply with the CVRA, which provides that "[A]n at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election." The letter was prompted by the results of an investigation MALDEF conducted after receiving complaints from Latino Fallbrook voters that it was nearly impossible for Latinos to gain representation on the District Board under the current at-large system.

MALDEF reviewed election returns, demographic information, and Spanish-surname analysis of votes cast by precinct, and concluded that persistent racially polarized voting was prohibiting Latinos from selecting candidates of their choice.

"Over 40 percent of the residents of Fallbrook Public Utility are Latino, yet there has been no Latino representation on the Board in recent history," said Denise Hulett, MALDEF National Senior Counsel. "District elections will afford all voters a meaningful opportunity to fully participate in the selection of Fallbrook's representatives, and a voice in its future governance."

MALDEF's lawsuit requests that the Court block Fallbrook's current at-large voting system and order that Fallbrook implement an election system using single-member districts. The right to vote is fundamental to democracy and must be protected for all citizens, regardless of race. MALDEF supports equal representation for all communities.

A copy of MALDEF's complaint in this case is available here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund