BAKERSFIELD, CA – A federal court today cleared the way for a lawsuit challenging Kern County’s failure to comply with the 1965 Voting Rights Act to move to trial.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) sued Kern County in April alleging that the county diluted the Latino vote when it adopted new supervisorial districts in 2011. The new plan maintained one district where Latinos constitute a majority of the eligible voters. However, it divided a politically cohesive Latino community in the northern part of the county into two districts, preventing Latino voters from electing a candidate of their choice, according to the complaint.
“The county’s meritless motion to dismiss has delayed the case moving forward and cost the county significant amounts in attorney costs,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “Our hope is that this case can move swiftly toward a resolution that will vindicate the voting rights of Latinos, who provide the backbone of the Kern County economy.”
The lawsuit, filed on behalf of four residents, comes as Kern County’s Latino citizen voting age population has grown from 25 percent to 34 percent between 2000 and 2010. Despite that increase, no Latino candidate for supervisor has won outside of one single district – District 5.
“MALDEF’s lawsuit focuses on a violation of section 2 of the federal Voting Rights Act, one of our nation’s most longstanding civil rights laws,” said Denise Hulett, MALDEF National Senior Counsel and lead attorney on the case. “Kern County needs to comply with this bedrock prohibition on drawing election districts that improperly dilute minority groups’ voting power.”
In his ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Dale A. Drozd noted that allegations regarding the lack of success of Latino candidates outside District 5 “suggest that in districts where the Latino population constitutes a minority, the majority voting bloc may vote to defeat Latino-preferred candidates.”
The county’s long history of housing and educational segregation and its exploitation of Latino agricultural workers who have supported the Kern County’s economy suggest that it is long past time for equal and unfettered access to political representation at all levels of county government. The county chose to expend scarce resources in a vain attempt to keep Latino voters from being allowed to prove their case. Given the strong opinion issued today, the Board should seriously consider whether continuing to fight the Latino community in this manner is in the best interests of the county as a whole.
Read the decision HERE.