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Home 2014 Elections Yes On District Elections In Anaheim, but the ACLU’s districts argument was wrong/ahistoric

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Yes On District Elections In Anaheim, but the ACLU’s districts argument was wrong/ahistoric

Karina Onofre Banner

Anaheim district elections

This November, voters in Anaheim will select two candidates for city council; the two candidates with the most votes will carry the day in what is known as an at-large (city-wide) election. On the same ballot, voters will be asked to approve a new, district-based system, for the election of all future council members. For this, we must credit the American Civil Leader Union (ACLU), which was pushing for districts in its lawsuit with the city. The litigation resulted in a settlement whereby voters will decide the matter. In order to obtain a favorable vote for districts in Anaheim, it is important to challenge and broaden the legal argument put forth by the ACLU. The ACLU was right about districts, but wrong about Anaheim.

While the issue may appear esoteric, the best reason for change is very simple: Anaheim has outgrown its at-large system and districts will bring government closer to the people. A city of 340,000, it is virtually impossible for a council candidate in Anaheim to win election as a result of personal relationships formed by going door-to-door during a campaign. Rather, a candidate must possess (or purchase) name recognition. As such, the city’s special interests regularly trump the will of the people by courting incumbents and through expensive city-wide mail campaigns.

Special interests will continue to have a major influence in district elections, but their financial clout will be checked by a candidate’s relationships among a manageable number of constituents within a district. Politicians in Anaheim, therefore, will have an increased incentive to regularly engage with their neighbors. In this way, government will be brought closer to the people.


The ACLU put forth a very different argument for districts. Based on California’s Voting Rights Act, its claim against the city maintained:

Anaheim’s at-large method of electing its City Council has resulted in vote dilution for Latino residents, impairing their ability to elect candidates of their choice or to influence the outcome of City elections, and has long denied Anaheim’s Latino residents effective political participation in the City’s electoral process.


[U]se of an at-large system to elect [Anaheim's] City Council and the prevalence of racially polarized voting is responsible for the absence of any Latinos on the City Council. This, combined with a history of discrimination in the City that still impacts the Latino community, reveals a lack of meaningful access for Latinos to the political process in Anaheim.

In other words, the ACLU is suggesting that the at-large system is a manifestation of persisting racist attitudes in the city. Respectfully, I strongly disagree with the ACLU’s race-centered analyses of Anaheim politics. Unquestionably, at-large elections produce a disproportionately bad result for the Latino community, but that state of affairs has no connection to racism in the city’s past.


Have no doubt, Anaheim has a history of bad race relations and white supremacy. As discussed in the ACLU’s complaint:

Anaheim has a long history of discrimination against minorities, including Latinos, and of racial tension. In 1924, at least three Ku Klux Klan members were elected to the City Council and earned the City the nickname “Klanaheim.” That year, Anaheim was the site of the largest white supremacist rally in California history. In 1928, La Palma School was built as a segregated school for Mexican children in Anaheim. . . .  In the 1940s, “non-whites” were only permitted to swim in the City’s public pool on Mondays, the day before it was cleaned, and Mexican-Americans were not permitted to use the City’s public tennis courts.
Race relations in Anaheim remain less than perfect, most notably on the issue of police violence and oversight. But the ACLU did not, can not, establish a connection between the institutionalized racism in Anaheim’s past and the issues facing the Latino community today.
The ACLU’s claim rested upon on presence of polarized voting. The city’s vote is polarized because of the inclusion of Anaheim Hills, a wealthy community quite distinct from the rest of Anaheim. Not developed until the 70′s, Anaheim Hills grew as part of suburban sprawl, particularly prevalent in Southern California in the late-Twentieth century.
From an economic perspective, it should come as no surprise that the politics of Anaheim Hills diverge from that of Anaheim at-large. A quick drive-through reveals the obvious: the two communities, situated far apart in space and average income, have different needs that manifest into different expectations/attitudes concerning local government.
With Anaheim Hills, the City’s historical “white” population was supplanted with residents of an upper-middle class bedroom community. The only thing that the current and historical “white” populations share in common is skin color, and even that is tenuous given that the “white” population in Anaheim Hills is significantly more multicultural, with a minority population of 30 percent.
In sum, as a result of massive demographic changes following World War Two, today’s Anaheim has little linking it with the “Klanaheim” of old. Polarized voting and its discontents are not the result of racism, but of suburbanization and the politics of income disparity. Latino communities have much to gain from district elections, but the same can be said for all communities within Anaheim.
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15 Comments  comments 

15 Responses

  1. “[U]se of an at-large system to elect [Anaheim's] City Council and the prevalence of racially polarized voting is responsible for the absence of any Latinos on the City Council.”

    Really? Santa Ana has at-large elections, and our entire Council is Latino.

    • We need ward specific elections in Santa Ana too!

      • Wrong Editor!

        What we need in the Santa Ana is to allow candidates to run under a pseudonym “Amezcua” because that is all the voters in the Santa Ana can spell on the ballot.

        The democracy can exist only with a well informed public excluding ACLU terrorism.

        It appears that the ACLU is a forth branch of the government dominated by Jews which is completely dismantling the constitutional Americanism with help of the UNION thugs.

  2. David Zenger

    Pretty good essay. I do disagree with this:

    “The city’s vote is polarized because of the inclusion of Anaheim Hills, a wealthy community quite distinct from the rest of Anaheim.”

    In the last election the city’s vote (if you mean the voters) was polarized by the Kleptocracy on one side and the union guy on the other who ended up being the sole hope for the reform-minded citizenry.

    As to Santa Ana, the Anaheim Kleptocracy points to it to show how at-large voting has resulted in all Latino councilmembers. Well, of course! District-based elections would permit voters elect one of their neighbors, regardless of ethnicity.

    • Daniel Lamb

      Based on your comments, I think we are in agreement. I am just struggling with how to articulate the point. Sure, the city’s voters are polarized, and in more ways than one, but that says nothing about the city’s politics. The at-large system is so locked-up and unresponsive, no one has a voice. That is to say, unless you are plugged into the … Kleptocracy

    • Daniel Lamb

      Oh… and thanks! Essayist sounds so much better than blogger.

  3. Daniel, it’s just the way the CVRA is written; in order to use that law, ACLU needed to make the racial argument. You should read the comments thread here, especially Diamond vs. Gabriel San Roman on WHY the law is this way: http://www.orangejuiceblog.com/2014/01/districting-wrap-up-how-much-taxpayer-money-did-kris-murray-and-gail-eastman-spend-ensuring-themselves-a-second-term/

    • “Diamond vs. Gabriel San Roman”………… Hmmmmmm

      Finally Golem is suing someone.

      “ACLU needed to make the racial argument.” ……. Duh!

    • Daniel Lamb

      Yeah, I took a look at the CVRA…. dense. I am not saying the ACLU did a bad job. They made the right legal argument for their clients. But now that it’s settled, I think the image they painted of Anaheim warrants a touch-up.

  4. To you, Paul, I say “Duh.” It’s not that at-large favors one race over another, it’s that it priveleges the majority at the expense of minorities. In Santa Ana – duh – the majority is Latino and Democrat; the minorities are white, Asian, Republican. You guys need district elections too, the principle is the same.