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SB-976 Elections: rights of voters.(2001-2002)

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SB976:v93#DOCUMENT

Senate Bill No. 976
CHAPTER 129

An act to add Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) to Division 14 of the Elections Code, relating to voting rights.

[ Filed with Secretary of State  July 09, 2002. Approved by Governor  July 09, 2002. ]

LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


SB 976, Polanco. Elections: rights of voters.
Existing law provides for political subdivisions that encompass areas of representation within the state. With respect to these areas, public officials are generally elected by all of the voters of the political subdivision (at-large) or from districts formed within the political subdivision (district-based).
Existing law generally allows the voters of the entire political subdivision to determine whether the elected public officials are elected by divisions or by the entire political subdivision.
This bill would provide that an at-large method of election, as defined, may not be imposed or applied in a manner that results in the dilution or abridgment of the right of registered voters who are members of a protected class, as defined, by impairing their ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of an election.
This bill would provide that a violation of its provisions shall be established if it is shown that racially polarized voting, as defined, occurs in elections for governing board members of a political subdivision, among other things. It would provide that an intent to discriminate against a protected class, as defined, is not required to establish a violation of this bill.
This bill would authorize a court to impose appropriate remedies, including district-based elections, and to award a prevailing nonstate or nonlocal government plaintiff party reasonable attorney’s fees and expenses consistent with specified case law as part of the costs.
This bill would permit a member of a protected class to file an action pursuant to this bill under specified circumstances.

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Chapter 1.5 (commencing with Section 14025) is added to Division 14 of the Elections Code, to read:
CHAPTER  1.5. Rights of Voters

14025.
 This act shall be known and may be cited as the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

14026.
 As used in this chapter:
(a) “At-large method of election” means any of the following methods of electing members to the governing body of a political subdivision:
(1) One in which the voters of the entire jurisdiction elect the members to the governing body.
(2) One in which the candidates are required to reside within given areas of the jurisdiction and the voters of the entire jurisdiction elect the members to the governing body.
(3) One which combines at-large elections with district-based elections.
(b) “District-based elections” means a method of electing members to the governing body of a political subdivision in which the candidate must reside within an election district that is a divisible part of the political subdivision and is elected only by voters residing within that election district.
(c) “Political subdivision” means a geographic area of representation created for the provision of government services, including, but not limited to, a city, a school district, a community college district, or other district organized pursuant to state law.
(d) “Protected class” means a class of voters who are members of a race, color or language minority group, as this class is referenced and defined in the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq.).
(e) “Racially polarized voting” means voting in which there is a difference, as defined in case law regarding enforcement of the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq.), in the choice of candidates or other electoral choices that are preferred by voters in a protected class, and in the choice of candidates and electoral choices that are preferred by voters in the rest of the electorate. The methodologies for estimating group voting behavior as approved in applicable federal cases to enforce the federal Voting Rights Act (42 U.S.C. Sec. 1973 et seq.) to establish racially polarized voting may be used for purposes of this section to prove that elections are characterized by racially polarized voting.

14027.
 An at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters who are members of a protected class, as defined pursuant to Section 14026.

14028.
 (a) A violation of Section 14027 is established if it is shown that racially polarized voting occurs in elections for members of the governing body of the political subdivision or in elections incorporating other electoral choices by the voters of the political subdivision. Elections conducted prior to the filing of an action pursuant to Section 14027 and this section are more probative to establish the existence of racially polarized voting than elections conducted after the filing of the action.
(b) The occurrence of racially polarized voting shall be determined from examining results of elections in which at least one candidate is a member of a protected class or elections involving ballot measures, or other electoral choices that affect the rights and privileges of members of a protected class. One circumstance that may be considered in determining a violation of Section 14027 and this section is the extent to which candidates who are members of a protected class and who are preferred by voters of the protected class, as determined by an analysis of voting behavior, have been elected to the governing body of a political subdivision that is the subject of an action based on Section 14027 and this section. In multiseat at-large election districts, where the number of candidates who are members of a protected class is fewer than the number of seats available, the relative groupwide support received by candidates from members of a protected class shall be the basis for the racial polarization analysis.
(c) The fact that members of a protected class are not geographically compact or concentrated may not preclude a finding of racially polarized voting, or a violation of Section 14027 and this section, but may be a factor in determining an appropriate remedy.
(d) Proof of an intent on the part of the voters or elected officials to discriminate against a protected class is not required.
(e) Other factors such as the history of discrimination, the use of electoral devices or other voting practices or procedures that may enhance the dilutive effects of at-large elections, denial of access to those processes determining which groups of candidates will receive financial or other support in a given election, the extent to which members of a protected class bear the effects of past discrimination in areas such as education, employment, and health, which hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process, and the use of overt or subtle racial appeals in political campaigns are probative, but not necessary factors to establish a violation of Section 14027 and this section.

14029.
 Upon a finding of a violation of Section 14027 and Section 14028, the court shall implement appropriate remedies, including the imposition of district-based elections, that are tailored to remedy the violation.

14030.
 In any action to enforce Section 14027 and Section 14028, the court shall allow the prevailing plaintiff party, other than the state or political subdivision thereof, a reasonable attorney’s fee consistent with the standards established in Serrano v. Priest (1977) 20 Cal.3d 25, 48-49, and litigation expenses including, but not limited to, expert witness fees and expenses as part of the costs. Prevailing defendant parties shall not recover any costs, unless the court finds the action to be frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.

14031.
 This chapter is enacted to implement the guarantees of Section 7 of Article I and of Section 2 of Article II of the California Constitution.

14032.
 Any voter who is a member of a protected class and who resides in a political subdivision where a violation of Sections 14027 and 14028 is alleged may file an action pursuant to those sections in the superior court of the county in which the political subdivision is located.