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california voting rights act
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California Voting Rights Act

About the California Voting Rights Act

The California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) was signed into law on July 9, 2002.  It targets jurisdictions that elect boards and councils at-large (all voters in the jurisdiction elect all members of the Board or Council).  The CVRA is not relevant for those jurisdictions that already elect by district.  All other California jurisdictions may be subject to challenge under the CVRA.

Intent of the CVRA
The CVRA disallows the use of the at-large type of election if it “impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election.”  Its intent is to enable members of protected groups (Hispanics, African Americans, Asian Americans, other non-White groups) to elect or to influence the election of representatives of their choice by requiring the election of board and council members by single-member election district (rather than at-large).

The CVRA and the Federal Voting Rights Act
The CVRA expands on the Federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it easier for minority groups in California to prove that their votes are being diluted in at-large elections.  Unlike the Federal Voting Rights Act, the CVRA does not require plaintiffs to demonstrate that it is possible to create an election district or districts in which a protected group is concentrated enough to establish a majority of the voters.  This makes it easier for plaintiffs to sue local governments and eliminate at-large elections.

Effect of CVRA Litigation on Local Governments
A major concern for potential defendants in CVRA litigation is that the law requires the defendant (the jurisdiction) to pay the plaintiff’s legal fees if the plaintiff’s lawsuit is successful.  The City of Modesto reportedly paid $3 million to attorneys for the plaintiff who sued them.  Tulare Regional Medical Center paid $500,000, and Madera Unified School District paid $162,500 (reduced from an original claim for $1.8 million). 

CVRA Assessments of Jurisdictions
To avoid the possibility of lawsuits and other complications, some jurisdictions with substantial minority populations have themselves initiated the move from at-large elections to election by district.  Other jurisdictions evaluate whether they can retain at-large elections. 

There is no statutory deadline for completion of California Voting Rights Act assessments.

LGDR’s CVRA evaluations include detailed analyses of:

  • Voting patterns in the jurisdiction (both board/council elections and other races/ballot measures) using the statistical methods accepted by the courts;
  • The history of membership of your board/council; and
  • The demographic makeup of your jurisdiction’s population and electorate.

 How LGDR Can Help You

Lapkoff & Gobalet Demographic Research, Inc., provides two types of services to jurisdictions.  We:

  • Demographically assess the voting patterns and Board or Council elections to determine whether the CVRA applies to a particular jurisdiction; and
  • Help jurisdictions move from at-large elections to election by districts (see our Political Redistricting Services page for a discussion of our districting services).

How much will this cost?
Costs depend upon the amount of assistance that the client requires, including the number of elections that are analyzed for evidence of racially polarized voting.  Please contact us for details: 

Jeanne Gobalet: Gobalet (at) Demographers.com and 408-725-8164
                Shelley Lapkoff:
Lapkoff (at) Demographers.com and 510-540-6424

Does LGDR provide legal advice/services?
We do not provide legal advice, although we are quite familiar with most CVRA and redistricting requirements.  We will work with your legal counsel.  We also can refer you to attorneys who specialize in the CVRA and political redistricting.


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