Lawsuit Aims to Stop Carson’s District-based Voting

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Attorney Jaime Monteclaro filed a lawsuit against the city of Carson to continue at-large elections through Nov. 3. File photo.

On Aug. 17, the city of Carson was hit with a lawsuit to prevent the city from implementing district elections for the Nov. 3 elections.

Filed by Torrance attorney and tentative candidate running for city council, Jaime Monteclaro filed the lawsuit claiming that the City Council violated its own charter as well as California election law.

Monteclaro filed his nomination papers before the close of the filing period and the council’s passage of Ordinance 20-2008. When the council pushed through the passage of voting districts, it was found that Monteclaro’s residency fell outside the boundaries of District 1 and 3, and he was unable to run for City Council. Specifically, Monteclaro argues that the ordinance passed Aug 4. would only be valid if it were passed May 7, six months before an election which is the deadline set by the Los Angeles County Recorder’s Calendar of Events list. Monteclaro shows that the council didn’t submit the map until Aug. 4, 2020.

Monteclaro also argues that the council’s changing of the city charter from an at-large voting system could not be enforced without the majority of Carson voters approving it first.

The voting districts ordinance was first introduced to the city council on June 21. The council voted 3-2 in favor of the change, with Mayor Albert Robles and Councilmen Jim Dear and Jawane Hilton in the majority. The change in the voting system applies to the four council members only. Only two council seats are up for election this cycle. The mayor, city clerk and city treasurer will continue as at-large elected seats.

Since the city’s 1968 inception, the City of Carson has voted for its council and mayor through an at-large citywide system. This meant that a resident from any part of the city could run for city council.

Carson asked its residents if they wanted to see the city adopt a charter and become a charter city in the 2018 general election. Fifty-six percent of the residents voted in favor of Carson becoming a charter city. The charter was adopted and passed on Jan. 17, 2019.

Following the city becoming a charter city, the city hired demographers to form districts in accordance with state law. In a June 2019 article, Random Lengths reported that several residents spoke against changing to districts, while none spoke in favor at a May 21 hearing on district maps.

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, a non-partisan Latino voter participation group, kept the pressure on to force the city to follow through forming the districts or face defending an expensive lawsuit for violating the California Voting Rights Act. The attorney representing the Southwest Voter registration Education Project, Kevin Shenkman, charged that the at-large voting disenfranchised Latino voters by diluting their vote.

Monteclaro highlights a section of the city charter which states that an ordinance could be proposed by a majority council vote, but the proposal can’t take place until the residents have voted on it in a citywide general election.

Monteclaro also said that placing residents in districts would violate California’s Voters Rights Act. Monteclaro claims that voters will be disenfranchised because of an inadequate notification period and that they would be expecting to vote at-large like they always have.

The court will listen to Monteclaro’s petition and enter a judgement without a jury trial. The city has responded to Monteclaro’s lawsuit. If a denial is issued, the Court of Appeals loses the authority to reopen the case. 

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