Asian Americans Advancing Justice - LA

Building upon the legacy of the Asian Pacific American Legal Center

City of Santa Ana Sued for Violation of California Voting Rights Act

SANTA ANA, CA - Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles (Advancing Justice-LA), Sidley Austin LLP, with strong support from a diverse coalition of community-based organizations, sued the City of Santa Ana today for violation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).  
The lawsuit was brought by Theresa Le, a representative of Santa Ana’s sizable Asian American population, alleging that the city’s current at-large system for electing city council members deprives a significant proportion of the city's residents from electing candidates of their choice.  
“I have lived in Santa Ana for over twenty years and district elections will benefit everyone,” said Theresa Le, Santa Ana resident and retired caregiver. “As a Vietnamese refugee, I am well aware of the impact that poverty and language barriers have on the everyday livelihood of my community. We need district elections so that every resident in this city has a voice and a way to have their concerns and needs met.” 
Currently, the city’s six councilmembers and mayor are elected by every voter in the city. As a result, the significant and growing Asian American population (11%) has not been able to elect their candidate of choice for nearly 40 years. District-based elections would help to solve this problem by requiring each of the councilmembers to live in the district they represent and be elected by the voters in that district. Under this system,the Asian American community, which is concentrated in West Santa Ana, would have a better opportunity of electing their candidate of choice. Moreover, district elections benefit everyone by holding councilmembers directly accountable and responsive to their constituents.  
“District-based elections increase civic engagement and participation by bringing government closer to the people,” said Michelle Lim, Voting Rights Policy Advocate at Asian American Advancing Justice - Los Angeles. “When community candidates are given a better shot at winning a seat on the city council, they bring a more in-depth understanding of the needs and challenges of their neighborhood.”  
In March, Santa Ana councilmembers voted 4-3 in favor of putting district elections on the ballot, though Mayor Miguel A. Pulido refused to sign the necessary documents that would have allowed city residents to vote on the measure in June. On April 6, Judge Glenn R. Salter of the Superior Court of Orange County ruled that the mayor did not have the authority to refuse signature and block the ballot measure. But, due to a technicality, it was too late to put the measure on the June ballot. 
“Regardless of the ballot measure that was pre-empted by the mayor’s conduct, we are moving forward with the lawsuit to make clear that Santa Ana residents are entitled to district elections," says Nicole Ochi, supervising attorney at Asian American Advancing Justice-LA.  
“Democracy under the law entitles every person to an equal vote and fair representation,” said Bridget Johnsen, litigation partner at Sidley Austin LLP.  “And there is a significant and cohesive community of Asian Americans in Santa Ana who are unable to elect the candidate of their choice under the current at-large system.” 
“While we applaud the City of Santa Ana for their leadership in passing a model sanctuary ordinance and for their efforts to protect the city’s large immigrant community, our democracy requires that the voices within our government are as diverse as the communities they speak for,” said Miguel Hernandez, Executive Director of Orange County Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO). 
The Santa Ana for Fair Elections (SAFE) coalition includes residents, OC Congregation Community Organization (OCCCO), OC Communities Organized for Responsible Development (OCCORD), Latino Health Access (LHA), and the OC Resilience and Boat People SOS (BPSOS). 


Randy Bunnao, 213-241-0227
About Advancing Justice - LA: 
Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles is the nation’s largest legal and civil rights organization for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders (NHPI). Through direct services, impact litigation, policy advocacy, leadership development, and capacity building, Advancing Justice-LA focuses on the most vulnerable members of Asian American and NHPI communities while also building a strong voice for civil rights and social justice.​
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
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