CERES — The City Council today will discuss switching to district elections after a Latino group threatened to sue the city on the grounds that its system violates federal and state voting acts.
As it stands, Ceres uses an at-large voting system, which allows all registered voters to vote for any candidate, regardless of where voters and candidates live within the city.
Latino Community Roundtable president Maggie Mejia and chairwoman Rosalinda Vierra say in a letter sent to the City Council in February that the at-large voting system "is nothing short of an incumbent protection voting scheme."
They contend that it impairs minority groups' ability to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of an election, in violation of the California Voting Rights Act.
The group wants Ceres to divide the city into districts because "many of the Asian, Latino and African-American residents are concentrated in specific neighborhoods and are not equally represented," the letter states.
Mejia said in the letter that LCR would file a lawsuit against Ceres demanding district elections and seeking reimbursement for attorney fees associated with any litigation if it does not soon take action.
Modesto made the move to district elections in 2008 after losing a lawsuit brought by a San Francisco civil rights law firm. It ultimately paid a $3 million settlement and spent an additional $1.4 million fighting the case.
Soon after, the Ceres Unified School District put up no fight when the same law firm sent a warning letter.
Now the Latino Community Roundtable has taken over the crusade.
In addition to the city of Ceres, the group sent letters to nearly every Stanislaus County school district and city that has not switched to elections based on geographical areas.
A little more than a third of Ceres residents are registered to vote, and only 18.33 percent of those people cast ballots in the November 2011 election. If the city kept its structure of one mayor and four council members, it is assumed that about 830 people would turn out to vote for a council member in a given district.
The council will discuss district elections during a study session starting at 5:30 p.m. today. The regular meeting will start at 7. The council meets at 2701 Fourth St., Ceres.
Bee staff writer Erin Tracy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209)578-2366.