LAWNDALE, CA – Today, MALDEF sent a letter to the Board President and Superintendent of the Lawndale Elementary School District (“Lawndale ESD”), demanding that the system for electing members of the board of trustees be changed to comply with the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”). Lawndale ESD currently elects trustees using an at-large method, which has denied Latino residents the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the Board of Trustees. MALDEF demands the election system be changed to a district-based system.
“Any school district in California should know and understand the importance of community involvement in the success of the educational endeavor,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “That lesson extends to governance, so we are hopeful that the Lawndale Elementary School District board will shift to an election system that better incorporates the entire community it serves.”
MALDEF conducted an investigation after receiving complaints from Latino citizens and voters in the district that its at-large election system prevents Latino voters from electing candidates of choice to the board of trustees. According to U.S. Census data, Latinos constitute 57 percent of the total population in Lawndale ESD, and 43 percent of the citizen voting age population, yet there is currently only one Latino member of the board, and there has been no other Latino board member for the last eight election cycles.
The CVRA states 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.” MALDEF reviewed election returns and demographic information, and concluded that the lack of success of Latino voters in electing candidates of their choice results from persistent racially-polarized voting in the electorate.
The letter requests that Lawndale ESD respond to the letter by April 18, 2016. If the response is unsatisfactory, MALDEF and its clients will seek a judicial order changing the election system from at-large to by-district, along with other relief provided for in the CVRA, including the collection of costs and attorneys’ fees.
Matthew Barragan, MALDEF Staff Attorney, said, “District elections will afford all voters a meaningful opportunity to fully participate in the selection of Lawndale ESD’s Board of Trustees. It is particularly important for the governance of our public schools to be inclusive and representative.”
The right to vote is fundamental to democracy in the U.S. and must be protected for all citizens, regardless of race. MALDEF supports equal representation for all communities across the country.
A copy of MALDEF’s letter is available here.