As I discussed yesterday in my post “How California Municipalities are experimenting with voting,” cumulative voting is an electoral process in which voters have a number of votes equal to the number of seats to be elected. For example, if in an election there were three seats up for election, voters would have three votes that they could cast however they chose to – all for one candidate, or divided among multiple candidates. I also discussed yesterday that Mission Viejo is potentially going to be the first California city to adopt this electoral process. This sets up the obvious question, why adopt a new-to-California voting system?

The Southwest Voter Registration Education Project (SVREP) recently filed suit against Mission Viejo. Again, one asks why? Well, about one in five residents of Mission Viejo is Latinx, however for over a decade the city council has had no Latinx representation. The California Voting Rights Act prohibits district-based voting that would impair a protected class from appropriate representation. Specifically stated the CVRA was designed with “legislative intent to eliminate minority vote dilution.”

After a study, public hearings, and analysis by the city and SVREP, the city maintained their district-based voting. SVREP responded to the decision to maintain district-based voting with a lawsuit. The claim was that Mission Viejo’s district-based voting was a violation of the California Voting Rights Act.

The litigation ended with a settlement plan. SVREP and the City of Mission Viejo agreed that the district-based voting was to be replaced with the cumulative voting system. The city also agreed to put all five council seats up for election every four years. This means that every voter in Mission Viejo will have five votes to use however they wish, including casting all five votes for the same candidate in every city council election.

“If they can get 20 percent of voters to cast all of their votes for that one candidate, well then, they ought to have a voice,” SVREP’s attorney Kevin Shenkman said.

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