College officials began a discourse over redistricting a little over two years ago when consultants warned college officials in February 2012 that an at-large election process could leave the college vulnerable to lawsuits connected to the California Voting Rights Act.
The 2002 act aims to protect the voting clout of minority groups by mandating a district-based system in elections where the at-large process dilutes their votes.
In at-large elections, candidates can run and be elected regardless of their address within a district’s boundaries. A district-based system has candidates vie to represent specific geographic areas within the boundaries.
Following the consultants’ warnings, a lawsuit was filed against the Glendale Community College District in August 2012, alleging that the district was in violation of the voting rights act.
The suit was filed by attorney Michael Miller, who was volunteering at the college as a speech and debate coach at the time. The five plaintiffs in the case claimed African American, Asian, Latino, mixed race and Armenian descent.
The lawsuit alleged that the college’s “at-large” voting system “has produced a situation in which one highly motivated, politically sophisticated and well-financed ethnic minority group” — identified by the plaintiffs as Armenian Americans — “effectively monopolizes membership on the board,” according to the lawsuit.
The five-member board of trustees included two Armenian Americans, two Anglos and one Latina – all of whom are still on the board.
However, that lawsuit was dismissed in 2013, and $802 was awarded in favor of the Glendale Community College District, according to court records.
Glendale Community College President/Supt. David Viar said college officials could consider changing its voting system from an at-large one to a district-based system if it appeared the district isn’t meeting the expectations of the voting rights law.
The law gained attention in the last few years in Anaheim where an at-large system produced an all-white city council in a city with a large Latino population. In November, city officials will hold an election to ask voters whether or not to create electoral districts in that city.
Viar said college officials are “interested in assuring in that it is meeting the law and that any changes that are occurring in our community are thought through… if changes need to be made and when,” he said.
“But in order [for the board] to do that, it needs to have an ongoing, thoughtful analysis following elections, and to see where we stand,” he added, saying college officials would “stay on top of the issue and assure it is meeting the law.”
The college will hold its next election of trustees in April 2015. In the most recent election in 2013, three current trustees — Ann Ransford, Anita Quinonez Gabrielian and Armine Hacopian — ran unopposed.
Hacopian said the board — which makes up a “diverse representation” — would “keep watching to see what are the needs of the district, and at that same time, meet the letter of the law to see if there is a gray area there,” she said.
Meanwhile, board members are staying informed on the voting rights law by attending workshops and conferences, she added.
“It will be a work in progress and constantly evolving,” she said.
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