At-Large Voting System Dilutes Minority Vote and Ability to Elect Candidates of Choice

BELLFLOWER, CA - Today, MALDEF, together with the law firm of Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, and the Law Offices of Robert Rubin, filed suit against the City of Bellflower for violating the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 ("CVRA"). The City uses an at-large method to elect its Council Members, which has denied Latino and African American residents the opportunity to elect Council Members of their choice.

"Successful local governance is increasingly critical in our democracy," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "Bellflower will thrive under a system that ensures fair representation for all voters throughout the entirety of the City."

The majority of the residents of Bellflower are Latino, and thirty-seven percent of the citizen voting-age population ("CVAP") is Latino. In addition, fourteen percent of the CVAP of Bellflower is African American. However, there is no Latino or African American representation on the five-member City Council. Bellflower's at-large election process does not require candidates to reside in any particular portion or zone of the City, and each eligible voter may vote for any candidate, regardless of where that voter resides. MALDEF and its co-counsel argue that this method has led to vote dilution, and has prevented Latinos and African Americans from electing candidates of their choice or influencing the outcome of City Council elections.

Moreover, patterns of racially polarized voting in Bellflower elections have been detrimental to the mobilization of Latino and African American voting power, allowing white voters to defeat Latino and African American voting strength. In City Council elections where there have been Latino and African American candidates, non-minority candidates and their supporters have resorted to discriminatory and racially polarizing campaign tactics, including overt or subtle racial appeals, which have made it even more difficult for minority candidates to obtain "crossover" non-minority votes, which are necessary to win election under the at-large system.

Matthew Barragan, MALDEF Staff Attorney, stated: "Latinos and African Americans have been shut out of Bellflower's electoral process because of the at-large election system. The remedy to this unlawful process is to create districts. The CVRA was enacted to bring equal opportunity to the electoral process in jurisdictions like Bellflower."

The City of Bellflower has been on notice for years about its violations of the CVRA. In March 2009, lawyers sent the city a letter pointing out that its at-large election system violates the CVRA. At the same time, several citizens of Bellflower sent the city a similar letter requesting a change of its at-large system. In May 2013, lawyers again sent a letter to Bellflower demanding a change in the at-large system. Since then, numerous citizens and voters of Bellflower, and several public officials, have communicated to the City Council their belief that the at-large election system used to elect the City Council discriminates against minority voters and violates the CVRA, and have petitioned for a change to a by-district election system. The City has rejected and ignored the lawyers' and citizens' demands to change its election system.

Laura Ho, partner at Goldstein, Borgen, Dardarian & Ho, said, "The interests of the entire community are best served by complying with the CVRA and by creating a district election system which assures residents of the diverse areas of Bellflower will be able to select representatives of their choice who are accountable to them."

"Bellflower's at-large method of election prevents Latino and African American voters from electing candidates of our choice," says Luis Melliz, a plaintiff in the case. "It was time to do something. Latinos and African Americans have a right to have a voice in what happens in Bellflower."

The right to vote is fundamental to democracy in the U.S., and must be protected for all citizens, regardless of race. MALDEF and its co-counsel support equal city council representation for all communities in California.

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:

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Copyright 2009 MALDEF — Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund