September 27, 2011 | Los Angeles Times | Original Article

Expert cites evidence of voting discrimination in L.A. County

Supporters of Supervisor Gloria Molina asserted Tuesday that Latino voting rights are squelched in Los Angeles County -– and the county risks a federal lawsuit if it does not change the district voting boundaries to better reflect a growing Latino population.

“We have not yet reached the day when the Voting Rights Act and civil rights laws can be dismissed,” said Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Assn. of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials Educational Fund. He noted that there are cities in L.A. County that, among eligible voters, are at least 25% Latino, but have only one Latino council member or none at all. They include Whittier, West Covina, Lawndale, Duarte, Palmdale, Carson, Lancaster, Artesia, Pasadena and Long Beach, Vargas said.

“The evidence is clear and strong that discrimination continues in the county of Los Angeles. The day is not yet here to dismiss the Voting Rights Act,” Vargas said.

Molina is arguing that the Voting Rights Act, a federal law protecting minority voting power, requires the county to draw a second Latino-majority district because L.A. County is 48% Latino. If it preserves the current boundaries, she argues, the county will be illegally splitting up Latino neighborhoods and diluting Latino voting power. Her opponents say the Voting Rights Act does not require such a drastic redrawing of boundaries.

Matt A. Barreto, a social scientist at the University of Washington, testified that in most elections in L.A. County, Latinos vote for one candidate, but that candidate often loses because whites and other racial groups vote against the candidate Latinos prefer.

That happened in Antonio Villaraigosa’s first unsuccessful race for mayor in 2001, Barreto’s analysis says. Then, despite overwhelming Latino support, he lost to James K. Hahn, who attracted a coalition of white and black voters. In the 2001 general election, Villaraigosa won 89% of the Latino vote, but lost 67% of the vote of whites and other non-Latino racial groups, Barreto's analysis said.

Even in 2005, when Villaraigosa won, Barreto’s analysis showed that Villaraigosa still lost the vote of non-Latinos -- 52% of whites and other racial groups backed Villaraigosa’s opponent. It was only because Villaraigosa won an overwhelming 96% of the Latino vote that he was propelled to victory, according to the analysis.

Lynwood Mayor Aide Castro said retaining the current supervisorial districts will deliberately dilute Latino voting power. “How did Supervisor Molina get her district? It was through a court.... Do not repeat history,” she said.

The hearing also attracted Sylvia Mendez, 75, who was 8 when her parents sued to desegregate public schools in Westminster; that case, Mendez v. Westminster, led to the 1947 striking down of the California law that permitted segregated schools.

“Equality is fought and found in the courts, and I’m a living example," Mendez said. "What is going on today at the [Board of Supervisors] is a clear violation of civil rights and voting rights and one that will most likely be fought in the courts.”

Rosalio Munoz, with the Chicano Movimiento Resource Center, made a number of provocative statements in Spanish that brought cheers to Molina’s supporters. “I am here to declare that there’s racism here at the board because they’re not ready to hear the  Latino voice.... There’s only three white men, and the rest are minorities.”

Molina smiled and gave her thumbs up at Munoz’s comments.