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Three Compton residents sue city, allege voting rights violations

December 3, 2010 |  1:37 pm

Three Compton residents are suing the city for alleged violations of the California Voting Rights Act, contending that the city's elections are stacked against Latino candidates.

The complaint filed Thursday in Los Angeles County Superior Court alleges that the at-large elections for City Council seats have the effect of diluting the Latino vote. Three Compton voters -– Felicitas Gonzalez, Karmen Grimaldi and Flora Ruiz -– filed the suit against the city and City Clerk Alita Godwin.

Chart shows breakdown by race/ethnicity in Compton as reported in the 2000 U.S. Census. Click for more details on Mapping L.A. City offices are closed on Friday, and the city attorney could not be immediately reached.

The mayor and the four members of Compton's City Council are African American. Compton was long seen as a primarily black community, but Latino residents now make up about two-thirds of the city's population. The suit alleges that although Latino candidates have run for council seats in a number of elections, no Latino candidate has been elected since at least 1999, and possibly ever.

Compton council members represent specific geographic districts within the city, but voting for each seat is not restricted to residents of the district. The suit alleges that the at-large elections violate the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

A previous Times analysis of voting patterns in the cities of southeast Los Angeles County found that Compton was one of a number of cities with large immigrant populations and a pattern of extremely low voter participation. In at least three municipal elections since 2005, less than 10% of the voting-age population cast ballots, the analysis found.

-- Abby Sewell

Chart: A breakdown of Compton by race/ethnicity, as reported in the 2000 census. The most recent census estimates, released in 2009, show that the Latino population has continued to climb to about 65%, as the percentage of black residents dropped to 32%. Source: Mapping L.A., 2006-2008 American Community Survey.