The anachronistic politics of at-large voting

Ph.D. | 2/29/2012, 5 p.m.

Los Angeles Southwest College (LASC) looks partially like an experimental yard for bomb explosions and a thriving, healthy and renovated school in the modern age. In this convoluted scenario, what is striking, however, is that no work seems to be getting done amid the stripped buildings, barricaded web netting and cracked concrete.

The Los Angeles Community College District Board (LACCD) recently decided to pull the plug on all college renovations in progress under its authority. Three contractors were alleged to be fraudulent, so the board put all its rebuilding contractors on pause.

Part of the problem is that this has been the case for more than six months, so students have to regularly figure out what new route has been set up to move back and forth to class. The other part of the problem is that even when the board decision is made to re-engage the contractors, some way, somehow, LASC will get the short end of the stick.

Within the LACCD, LASC is basically the last Black majority college, considering both student population and teachers. West L.A. probably has as many or more African American students, but it has only a handful of Black American faculty and academic staff. There are those who say LASC's days as a Black majority school are numbered and should be counted in months, not years.

Be that as it may, the real problem here is that there is no Black American representation on the LACCD. There have certainly been Black candidates for election, including recently Nicole Chase and Joyce Burrell Garcia. There was even a recent Black incumbent who ran, Angela Reddock, (she had been appointed to the seat to replace a retiree). All lost.

The elections for the LACCD are at-large. Since the governor's signature on AB 684, in October 2011, they have also been illegal. This new law provides community college boards an easy transition from at-large to geographic district voting. In fact, AB 684 says: "Current law establishes the California Voting Rights Act of 2001(Act) which provides that an at-large method of election may not be imposed or applied in a manner that impairs the ability of a protected class to elect candidates of its choice or its ability to influence the outcome of an election, as a result of the dilution or the abridgment of the rights of voters who are members of a protected class, as defined."

The act also establishes criteria in state law through which the validity of at-large election systems can be challenged in court.

In essence then, AB 684 has modified the process by which governing boards of California community college districts may change from at-large trustee elections to election by geographical trustee areas. For these new trustee areas, the territory of a district will be divided into these neighborhood or geographical territories, and one member of the governing board would be elected from each trustee area. Candidates for election to boards must reside in, and be registered to vote in, the trustee area he or she seeks to represent on the board. Each affected governing board is authorized to set the initial boundaries of the trustee area in order to reflect the population identified and counted in the most recent decennial federal census. Additionally, however, this bill does not apply to any community college district that is authorized by statute to provide for its own trustee elections.