TUSTIN, Calif. — The City of Tustin must change its system for electing city council members or risk being sued for violating the California Voting Rights Act, according to a letter sent today by a Latino civil rights organization.
MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund) sent a letter to city officials demanding that Tustin City Council switch from the current at-large election system to a district-based election system. The change is necessary to ensure Latino voters have an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice as required by the CVRA.
“California elections can and should be a model of inclusion,” said Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF president and general counsel. “At-large elections too often result in freezing out significant communities that have different policy views than the majority; Tustin governance would improve with greater inclusion for the Latino voting community.”
The letter, sent on behalf of Latino voters in the City of Tustin, demands that the city switch to districts in time for the November 2022 election.
The City of Tustin, in Orange County, is governed by a five-member city council comprised of a mayor, a mayor pro tem, and three council members. City Council members are elected at-large to four-year terms. The city staggers its elections so that three councilmembers are on the ballot during one election cycle, and two are up for election during the next cycle. The next election is November 3, 2020.
In the letter, MALDEF says Tustin’s at-large system dilutes Latino voting strength and results in underrepresentation. Tustin is nearly 40 percent Latino and over a quarter of the city’s registered voters are Latino. However, the City Council currently has no Latinos, and, in the last 20 years, only one Latino has been elected to serve on the council.
Under the CVRA, cities that show patterns of racially polarized voting that curtail a minority group’s ability to elect any of its preferred candidates must switch from an at-large election system, in which members are elected by all voters, to a district-based election where voters who live in each district select the candidate of their choice.
“Latino voters are a large part of the Tustin community, yet the current at-large election system diminishes their ability to participate in the electoral process and elect candidates of their choice,” said Tanya Pellegrini, MALDEF staff attorney. “Creating single-member districts will ensure that the voices of all members of the Tustin community are heard.”
A copy of the letter can be viewed HERE.