Santa Monicans vote during an election. (File photo)

The fate of Santa Monica’s election system is now in the hands of a judge following the final deadline for arguments in the California Voting Rights Act lawsuit filed this year.

After several weeks of oral presentations, both sides submitted written closing statements in recent weeks. The final rebuttal was filed with the court on Oct. 25, officially closing the argument phase of the trial.

In their documents, both sides reiterated their trial arguments. Lawyers representing the plaintiffs (the Pico Neighborhood Association and Maria Loya) said at-large elections disenfranchise minority voters.

“The experts’ respective analyses of racially polarized voting leave no doubt – Defendant’s city council elections violate the CVRA,” said the Plaintiff’s closing. “Defendant has refused to remedy that violation, or even propose a remedial plan, so it is now incumbent upon this Court to do exactly that. The undisputed evidence presented at trial shows that district-based elections should cure the problem, and is the most effective remedy available to this court. Regardless of the particular remedy, one thing is abundantly clear – Defendant’s discriminatory election system violates the CVRA and must change.”

Lawyers defending the city said the evidence simply doesn’t support the accusation.

“Latinos are just over 13% of Santa Monica’s eligible voters (and well under 10% of its actual voters), yet have consistently elected candidates of their choice to City Council under the current at-large system,” said the City’s closing. “Notwithstanding this record of electoral success, plaintiffs ask the Court to ignore case law and common sense to conclude that, for Latino voters, present-day Santa Monica is the equivalent of what African-American voters faced ‘in the late ‘60s in the Deep South.’”

Both sides maintain an absolute belief in their position.

“As the closing briefs make clear, the trial in this case demonstrated that Santa Monica’s at-large elections are fair, inclusive, and comply fully with California and federal law,” said Kahn Scolnick with the firm Gibson Dunn. “The reality is that Latinos have consistently been able to elect candidates of their choice to the City Council and other positions in Santa Monica.  And two of the seven current City Council members are Latino, even though Latinos make up only 13% of the City’s voting population.  Plaintiffs’ closing briefing confirms what was evident throughout the trial:  Their efforts to condemn Santa Monica’s at-large electoral system reflect a distorted view of the facts and the law.  We remain confident that the City will prevail.”

Plaintiff attorney Rex Parris praised the judge for her deliberate analysis of the case.

“She’s going to be careful and she’s going to write a very good opinion,” he said. “I’m 90 percent sure that we were successful.”

Parris said he thought the defense made several tactical and legal errors that will tip the scales in the Plaintiff’s favor, including a lack of expert testimony disputing the notion of polarized voting and a failure to adapt to the evolving nature of a trial. He said the opposing attorneys were doomed from the start given what he feels is the open and shut nature of the case.

“Most people feel elections should be fair and you shouldn’t employ procedural means of rigging the outcome and that’s what Santa Monica is doing and they know they’re doing it,” he said. “I think you’re going to see huge changes in Santa Monica after this case is decided.”

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