Local political activists have announced plans to challenge Santa Monica’s at-large voting system.

Maria Loya will hold a press conference in front of City Hall at 11 a.m. on December 15 to demand a transition to a district-based system.

“As a mother, former city council candidate and resident of the Pico Neighborhood I want to ensure that future elections provide fairness,” said Loya. “The current at-large election system has led to a lack of representation, which in turn has led to social neglect, environmental racism and marginalization. I love my City and it can be a better City by ending its discriminatory at-large election scheme.”

Santa Monica currently allows all residents to vote for all seats during a local election. Most counties and large cities use district based voting that allows residents to vote based on geographic boundaries within the municipality. More cities have switched to district voting following implementation of the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) after claims that at-large elections disenfranchise minority voters who are often clustered within specific neighborhoods. Voting rights groups have targeted several southern California cities in recent years arguing that significant differences in voting results between minority and white neighborhoods amounted to discrimination.

Loya, who is married to School Board member Oscar de la Torre, ran for city council in 2004 and for College Board in 2014. According to her press release, she won a majority of precincts in the Pico neighborhood but was unable to win a majority city-wide.

“In the face of a legal challenge where CVRA provisions have applied, no municipal government has succeeded in defending its at-large election system. Making a defense more complicated for Santa Monica is the fact that a City commissioned study in 1992 determined the current at-large system was most likely devised in 1946 to deliberately disenfranchise minority voters, making the current at large elections unconstitutional,” said attorney Kevin Shenkman.

Shenkman has successfully won multiple CVRA cases, most recently against the City of Garden Grove, and most notably against the City of Palmdale that was forced to adopt district-based elections after incurring an estimated $7 million in legal fees.

Torre said Santa Monica is divided between minority residents living in some areas and wealthy residents clustered into a few districts.

“Our City leaders have an opportunity to bring justice to one of our City’s darkest moments, where people of color were deliberately marginalized,” he said. “I hope that one day every resident and every neighborhood is represented in our government. Residents deserve equal representation, a stronger democracy and an electoral system that is fair.”

Matthew Hall

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...