San Jose

Court Rules Santa Clara Violated the California Voting Rights Act

A Santa Clara County Superior Court judge announced Tuesday that he believes Santa Clara's at-large voting system violates the California Voting Rights Act and has impaired the Asian-American population from getting elected.

Santa Clara registered voters Ladonna Yumori Kaku, Michael Kaku, Wesley Kazuo Mukoyama, Umar Kumal and Herminio Hernando filed a complaint against the city in October after attorney Robert Rubin notified the jurisdiction four times that his clients believed the system caused vote dilution.

The basis of Rubin's argument was rooted in the fact that not a single Asian-American had been elected in Santa Clara since 1951. He said the city had denied the community of its constitutional rights.

The plaintiffs proved by a "preponderance of the evidence" that the at-large method had failed the demographic as a result of dilution, Judge Thomas Kuhnle wrote in his formal proposed decision.

It is a case that could change the way voting takes place in the City of Santa Clara. And it comes amid accusations that the city is promoting racial discrimination through its election process. Robert Handa reports.

Kuhnle said he went through statistical data provided by Rubin's expert J. Morgan Kousser and found proof of racially polarized voting in five of the Santa Clara City Council elections from 2002 to 2016.

He also found it indisputable that no Asians have been elected to the City Council, despite at least one member of the community running for the last 10 elections.

Kuhnle said he also took historical discrimination of the Asian community into account while making his decision, noting that they had suffered because of it in areas such as education, employment and health, which "hinder their ability to participate effectively in the political process."

The city's attorneys have 15 days to submit an objection to the ruling, Kuhnle said.

Threats of similar lawsuits have prompted other cities in the Bay Area and elsewhere in California to change from the at-large election system to district elections.

Santa Clara city representatives said during liability phase hearings in the trial in April that the city has been working for the last 18 months on a proposal to split the at-large system into two districts.

The proposed system would direct each district to elect three councilmembers at-large for the six-person City Council. The measure, known as Measure A, is on the city's June 5 ballot.

Rubin and the residents he represents do not agree with that proposal, saying they believe it still constitutes an at-large system that would violate the Voting Rights Act.

"It's only trying to retain the power they have," Mukoyama, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said on the day the liability phase of the trial ended. "I continue to feel like this is an apartheid answer."

Mukoyama suggested six districts, one for each council seat.

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