City Accused of Violating California Voting Rights Act

May 26, 2016

RIALTO, CA - Today, MALDEF sent a letter to the Mayor of Rialto and the Rialto City Council, demanding that the system for electing members to the city council be changed to comply with the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The City currently elects council members using an at-large method, which has denied Latino and African American residents the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the City Council. MALDEF demands that the City convert to a by-district election system.

"Every community has a right to representation commensurate with its size," stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. "Overrepresentation of the white voting community, with a concomitant continuing and significant underrepresentation for minority communities, is no more acceptable in 21st century California than total exclusion."

MALDEF conducted an investigation after receiving complaints from Latino and African American citizens and voters in the City that its at-large election system prevents Latino and African American voters from electing candidates of choice to the City Council. According to U.S. Census data, Latinos constitute 54 percent of the total voter eligible population of Rialto. African Americans comprise an additional 20 percent of the voter eligible population in Rialto. However, only one member of the current City Council is Latino, Joe Baca Jr. The first and only other Latino to sit on the city council was Grace Vargas, who retired in 2012. The Mayor of Rialto, Deborah Robertson, is the first and only African American Mayor to sit on the City Council. The CVRA states that "[a]n 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." MALDEF reviewed election returns and demographic information, and concluded that the lack of success of Latino and African American voters in electing candidates of their choice results from persistent racially-polarized voting in the electorate.

The letter requests that the City of Rialto respond by June 16, 2016. If the response is unsatisfactory, MALDEF and its clients will seek a judicial order changing the election system from at-large to by-district, along with other relief provided for in the CVRA, including the collect of costs and attorneys' fees.

Matthew Barragan, MALDEF Staff Attorney, said, "The interests of the entire community are best served by complying with the CVRA and by converting to a district-based election system which assures fair and democratic elections in Rialto."

The right to vote is fundamental to democracy in the U.S. and must be protected for all citizens, regardless of race. MALDEF supports equal representation for all communities across the country.

A copy of the letter is available here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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