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Problems in Anaheim Correlated with Malapportionment

Tensions are still simmering between local Anaheim residents and city government, particularly law enforcement, over a string of shootings that residents consider to be police brutality. At the time I noted that the problem in Anaheim had at least something to do with a mostly white leadership and a diverse population. Basically the problem comes down to malapportionment. The Anaheim City Council is not carved up into districts, but instead consists of 5 at-large seats. The more affluent areas of Anaheim have more frequent voting records, and thus the ability to position their candidates into the seats. Therefore, you have a situation where three city councilmembers live within minutes of one another in the ritzy Anaheim Hills, running a city that has a substantial Latino population. Nobody from the Latino district represents Anaheim on the city council. And this being Orange County, the councilmembers are Republican stalwarts, as likely to endorse party-line English only legislation as anything else.

Activists are trying to change the representation issue, seeing it as central to the disconnect between the leadership and their constituents. And they are making headway.

The Anaheim City Council will hold a special closed session Thursday afternoon to discuss “several important city matters,” including a lawsuit seeking to change the city’s electoral process to increase minority representation.

The lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union in June, alleges the city’s current at-large system has resulted in “vote dilution” for Latino residents. Though the majority of Anaheim’s population is Latino, the lawsuit says, the City Council has only had three Latino members in city history.

The lawsuit also references a “history of discrimination in the city that still impacts the Latino community.”

The City Council is considering a Nov. 6 ballot measure that would amend the voting process by requiring that four of the five council members be elected by district. The majority of the current council lives in Anaheim Hills, an affluent enclave largely separated from the rest of the city.

The city’s mayor, Tom Tait, visited the site of one of the shooting deaths and spoke with local residents, agreeing that “it was time for a change in the way officials are elected.”

So many of our issues in this country are actually old ones. Malapportionment has a rich history in America, often used to entrench party dominance in certain states, by equalizing Congressional districts by size rather than population. Reforms dealt with that long ago, but plenty of remnants remain. We see it every day with our malapportioned Senate, where Wyoming has the same level of representation as California. There are plenty of ways to game the electoral system for partisan, ideological, or in this case ethnic advantage. Anaheim is dealing with some very old wounds.

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David Dayen

David Dayen