School districts throughout California must consider if their elections could be found to violate the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA). The CVRA is intended to ensure that minority groups have the ability to elect candidates of their choice to the elected boards of local agencies. It attempts to achieve this by prohibiting:
The use of “at-large” elections to elect governing board members,
Where there is evidence of racially polarized voting; and,
The elections prevent a protected class from electing candidates of their choice.
If all three factors are met and a voter initiates a legal challenge, it is likely the school district would be found in violation of the CVRA. However, if any of the factors are not met, specifically if the school district uses “by-trustee area” elections, then there is no potential for a violation of the CVRA.
When a school district reviews application of the CVRA, it has essentially three options:
Decide to maintain the status quo, i.e., at-large elections,
Transition to by-trustee area elections by adopting trustee area maps and seeking approval at the county and state level; or,
Commission an analysis of the school district’s demographics and voting history to determine the potential for a CVRA violation and then determine if it will maintain or transition its election system.
The Washington Unified School District is governed by a five member Board of Education. Board members are currently elected in “at-large” elections, where each member is elected by registered voters throughout the District. The District is committed to structures that most effectively involve all community members in the democratic process of elections.
Recently, the District received a letter stating that the current elections are in violation of the California Voting Rights Act (“CVRA”) and indicating litigation may result if the District does not make this transition. On March 5, 2018, the District received a letter from attorney Scott Rafferty on behalf of the Latino Information and Resource Network, the Broderick Area Homeowners’ Association, Maria Grijalva, Edward Castorena, and Sandra Miranda, alleging that the District’s current at-large election system violates the CVRA as it “dilutes minority electoral influence in the election of board members to the [District]…;”