The results of Santa Monica’s 2018 election are headed towards certification after a judge rejected a request to prohibit the final stamp of authority pending final ruling in the lawsuit over the city’s voting system.
While the judge rejected the Plaintiff’s request for a temporary restraining order, she still has the authority to order a special election in 2019 according to attorney Kevin Shenkman who successfully represented Maria Loya and the Pico Neighborhood Association in the case.
Shenkman and his team argued the City’s at-large voting system is racist and disenfranchises Latino voters. The judge issued a brief ruling in the Plaintiff’s favor and has scheduled a hearing on Dec. 7 to discuss the next steps. Shenkman said he requested the delay in certification in anticipation of an argument from the City that recently elected councilmembers should be allowed to serve out their terms.
“We wanted to prevent the defendant from arguing that the court doesn’t have the power to cut short the terms of these council members and I think the court certainly does have that power,” he said.
Shenkman said there’s strong legal precedent for requiring a special election following a violation of the California Voting Rights Act and he is continuing to press for a new election in 2019.
In a statement, Santa Monica City Attorney Lane Dilg said the election results should stand.
“The City is pleased with the Court’s decision. Nearly 40,000 Santa Monica residents voted in the 2018 election. The Court’s decision honors those votes and rejects plaintiffs’ inexplicable effort to favor a past Council (also selected at-large) over the Council chosen by the voters just weeks ago,” she said. “The result sought by plaintiffs would have moved our democracy backward, not forward.”
So far, the judge has issued a tentative ruling and her decision will become final sometime after the Dec. 7 hearing. Lawyers for the City have submitted a multi-page document requesting significant explanation of the decision and have said they plan to appeal the final ruling if it remains in favor of the Plaintiffs.
In addition, the City’s statement criticized the proposed district map submitted by the Plaintiffs during the trial saying it was developed without public input.
“The City contends that plaintiffs have failed to show that this map — which received neither input nor approval from the voters — would enhance the voting strength of Latinos. In fact, plaintiffs have failed to show that the map would enhance the voting strength of Latinos in the ‘Pico’ district drawn by the plaintiffs; and it would, in fact, dilute the votes of Latinos and other minority voters in other overwhelmingly white districts,” said the statement. “The City further contends that the plaintiffs failed to prove at trial that any alternative voting system would enhance Latino voting strength in Santa Monica.”
Shenkman called the city’s opposition to the map nonsense and said the underlying notion, that Latinos would have more influence in city-wide elections, has already been rejected by the court. He said the City had a chance to argue against the proposed map during the trail but did not present any experts to dispute their proposal.
“I believe (the map) is an appropriate remedy because the unrebutted evidence at trial says it’s an appropriate remedy,” he said.
He criticized the current council for failing to accept the decision.
“They’re going to try to continue holding onto their own seats,” he said. “They don’t give a shit what the public has to say. If they did, they would never have started this fight to begin with.”