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Compton settles Latino voting rights lawsuit

February 29, 2012 | 10:00 am

Compton settles voting rights lawsuit
The city of Compton has reached a settlement with two Latinas who sued the city saying its election system violated Latino residents'' voting rights.

Plaintiffs Felicitas Gonzalez and Flora Ruiz sued the city in 2010, saying that the city's at-large council elections violated the California Voting Rights Act. The case had been scheduled to go to trial in May.

The population of Compton, historically a black stronghold, is now about two-thirds Latino, but Latinos are a minority of eligible voters. The plaintiffs contend that no Latino candidate has ever been elected to Compton’s City Council and blame the city’s at-large voting system for diluting the Latino vote. 

They sought to force a change to district elections, which would allow for the creation of at least one district where the majority of eligible voters are Latino.

Under the settlement announced at Tuesday night's Compton City Council meeting, the city has agreed to place an initiative on the June primary ballot to allow voters to decide whether to make the switch to district elections. If the measure fails in June, it will go on the ballot a second time in November.

If the measure passes, the plaintiffs will have the right to review the proposed district boundaries.

City Atty. Craig Cornwell said the city's position has been that the election system is legal and that changing to district elections would require a vote of the residents under the charter, but said city officials agreed to the settlement partially because the plaintiffs had argued that a switch to district elections would increase voter turnout.

The city's elections have been consistently characterized by low voter turnout, with less than 10% of registered voters casting ballots. 

"The common goal of wanting to increase voter turnout has led to this settlement," Cornwell told the council Tuesday night. "It is rare that the city can turn a litigated case over to the citizens for a determination on how the city will move forward, and this is such a case."

Gay Grunfeld, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said they were also pleased.

"This has been a long, hard litigation and we're very happy that it's ending in this productive way," she said.

Under the settlement, the city will pay the plaintiffs' attorney fees. The amount has not been determined.


Suit seeks to open Compton to Latino voters

Lawsuit alleging Compton elections unfair to Latinos going to trial 

-- Abby Sewell

Photo: The city of Compton has settled a voting rights lawsuit brought by two Latinas. Credit: Gina Ferazzi / Los Angeles Times