The Fallbrook elementary school board adopted new voting districts Monday, in response to concerns that the current at-large elections disenfranchise Latino voters.
However, community members who submitted an alternative map for electoral districts say the new plan doesn’t maximize the Latino vote in the community, and delays district voting by two years.
“We are definitely concerned with the lack of urgency that the board expressed with our concerns, so we really want to have an opportunity for our town to have a chance at the 2020 elections, to have a representative there,” said Stephanie Ortiz, a community member and former student of Fallbrook Union Elementary School District. “Our primary concern is that the California Voting Rights Act is not being upheld, and the remedy is being postponed.”
District Spokesman Bill Billingsley said many Fallbrook voters are satisfied with the map the council approved, despite the opposition from Ortiz and some other residents.
“There’s broad community support for that map that was selected,” Billingsley said. “There are four individuals in the community that expressed their concern with it.”
School Trustee Caron Lieber, the lone vote against the adopted map, agreed with residents on the urgency of creating an electoral district that increased representation of Latino voters. Students need to see elected officials that reflect their culture and background, she said, and parents are more likely to communicate with a board member who speaks their primary language, she said.
“The California Voters Right Act was enacted in 2002, 17 years ago,” she said in a statement. “The Hispanic/Latino community has been very patience with us. Seventeen years is a long time to wait. For that reason, and the ones I have already mentioned, I feel that the time to give a voice to the Hispanic/Latino population of Fallbrook…is now.”
According to the state website Ed Data, Fallbrook Elementary district had a student population that was 61 percent Latino in the last school year. In August, the district received a letter from attorney Kevin Shenkman, stating that the district was violating the California Voting Rights Act by holding at-large elections, in which voters choose trustees for the district as a whole. At-large elections are illegal if they hinder the ability of a protected class, including certain racial groups such as Latino voters, from electing representatives of their choice.
To avoid litigation, the school board voted in November to move to district elections in which voters choose board members to represent specific geographic areas. It’s the latest of a number of San Diego County public agencies, including the cities and school districts of Escondido, Carlsbad, Oceanside, Vista and San Marcos, to make that switch.
In the following months, the district considered several plans to create electoral districts that concentrate the number of Latino voters, improving their ability to elect their preferred candidates. In Fallbrook, Ortiz teamed up with fellow residents Leticia Maldonado Stamos and Ricardo Favela to draft a map that would include a downtown voting district consisting of 52 percent Latino voters. According to their proposed plan, that district would vote on a new school board member in the next presidential election, in 2020.
On Monday, the board approved a different plan that would create a downtown district consisting of 50 percent Latino voters, and would place that area on the ballot in 2022. Community organizers complained that the adopted plan postpones their ability to gain representation by two years, and schedules that choice for a midterm vote, which typically produces lower turnout than presidential elections.
“It just puts it off,” said Ricardo Favela, a member of the Fallbrook Human Rights Committee, and a parent of two students in sixth and second grade at Maie Ellis Elementary “This is supposed to remedy historic discrimination against our community. And we want that remedy immediately.”
Favela said he became involved in the districting process as soon as he heard about it, providing feedback at community meetings, talking to demographers and reviewing census blocks.
“We thought we submitted a good map that creates a strong Latino community district, and surrounds Fallbrook’s downtown,” he said. “And that map would allow us to vote on this position in the next election, 2020.”
The adopted version features a boundary that captures the home of an incumbent, said Julia Gomez, an attorney for the Los-Angeles-based Mexican American Legal Defense Educational Fund (MALDEF). That’s not necessarily a problem, she said, except that it dilutes Latino voting power, and delays the opportunity for an election in that district.
“It looks like what Fallbrook was doing when it adopted its map, is that it was trying to protect incumbents, to the detriment of its Latino population,” she said.
The California Voting Rights Act was passed in 2001, so Fallbrook is already behind in complying with it, Favela said.
Moreover, he argued, Fallbrook has past racial injustice to address, noting that Tom Metzger, a former Klu Klux Klan leader and founder of White Aryan Resistance, made the community his home and center of operations. As a student in Fallbrook, Favela said, he endured anti-Latino threats and taunts, so he wants to ensure that Latino students and families have a voice in the school district going forward.
“I was born in this town,” Favela said. “I know many of the migrant workers. My father was a migrant worker. We’re well familiar with the violence that our community went through.”
The adopted map will go next to the County Board of Education’s committee on school district organization for review. There isn’t a hearing scheduled yet, Gomez said, but Favela said that community members plan to lobby against its approval. If the county committee approves it, Gomez said, MALDEF and the community organizations may consider challenging it in court.
This article provided by NewsEdge.