More Latino Representation in Compton?

Last week the city of Compton agreed to put a measure on the ballot, which would institute voting by district in city council races. Currently, Compton's city council members are elected based on at-large city-wide voting.

The decision came in reaction to criticisms that Latinos are massively underrepresented in city government. Critics of the current system filed a lawsuit under the California Voting Rights Act, contending that Latinos must have a larger voice in local government. Specifically, proponents of the lawsuit argue that the current at-large elections dilute Latino voting power, and that if elections occur on a district basis, there will be at least one majority-Latino district.

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Latinos now account for almost two-thirds of the city's nearly 100,000 residents. However, only a percentage of those residents are eligible to vote, because of age and other factors. Latinos make up much less than two-thirds of the members of the city government.

Proponents of the lawsuit and the city agreed to settle the suit by placing a measure of the ballot that would create by-district voting. If the measure fails in June it will be back on the November ballot.

The ballot measure seems to make sense. However, it faces two large hurdles. First, people must actually turn out to vote for it. Second, if it is successful, it will only make a difference if people go back to the ballot box to vote for their representative of choice. These are not small hurdles; voter turnout in municipal elections in Compton can be in the single digits. On the other hand, if voters feel their system of elections will elect officials who better represent them, they may be more likely to go to the polls. Compton voters who are dissatisfied with the current system should exercise their right to vote to change that.

Jessica Levinson writes about the intersection of law and government in Los Angeles every week. She is a Visiting Professor at Loyola Law School. Read more of her posts here.

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