Definitions and Background

Definitions:

At-Large: The District currently utilizes an at-large election process to elect its governing school board members, whereby all candidates who reside within IUSD boundaries and meet the requirements set by the Orange County Registrar of Voters are eligible to run for the School Board. All registered voters within IUSD boundaries are eligible to submit their vote for School Board candidates.

By-Trustee: In a by-trustee area system of election, candidates for the Board must reside within a specific geographic subarea of the District called a “trustee area” and candidates are elected only by the voters of that trustee area.

California Voting Rights Act Background Information:

The California Legislature enacted the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA) of 2001. (See California Elections Code §§ 14025-14032). This legislation makes all at-large election systems in California for cities, school districts and special districts vulnerable to legal attack, largely on proof of racially polarized voting, regardless of whether a majority district can be formed and, under the interpretation adopted by plaintiffs in other pending CVRA cases, without regard to the electoral success of minority candidates or the need to prove actual racial injury exists.

The CVRA purports to alter several requirements that plaintiffs would have to prove under the Federal Voting Rights Act, thereby making it easier to challenge at-large election systems.

The CVRA continues to evolve. In September of 2016, Governor Brown signed Assembly Bill 350 into law, effective January 1, 2017, which imposes changes to the process used to establish by-trustee area elections and requires prospective plaintiff(s) under the CVRA to first send a written notice to the political subdivision against which the action would be brought indicating that its method of election might violate the CVRA. The political subdivision may then take ameliorative steps to correct the alleged violation before the prospective plaintiff may commence litigation. The Bill also requires political subdivisions to reimburse prospective plaintiff(s) for reasonable costs claimed in generating work product to prepare the written notice.

Other California Voting Rights Act Cases:

The first suit under the CVRA was filed against the City of Modesto in 2004. Modesto challenged the factual constitutionality of the CVRA on the basis that, by using race as the sole criterion of liability, the CVRA contains a suspect racial classification that California was required to justify under equal protection strict scrutiny standards. The trial court struck down the statute but the California Court of Appeal reversed. (Sanchez v. City of Modesto (2006) 145 Cal.App.4th 660).

The City of Modesto ultimately settled the litigation, but not before paying plaintiffs’ attorneys $3 million dollars in fees (the prevailing party [other than a public agency] is entitled to an award of their attorneys’ fees and costs under the CVRA) and another $1.7 million to its own attorneys.

Another lawsuit alleging a violation of the CVRA was initiated against the Hanford Joint Union High School District in 2004. The school district adopted trustee areas, established by-trustee area elections, and requested and received the same waiver from the State Board of Education that is being requested here. The school district paid plaintiffs the sum of $110,000 pursuant to a settlement agreement.

The Madera Unified School District was sued under the CVRA and their November 2008 governing board member election was enjoined by the court. The plaintiffs in that case demanded $1.8 million in attorneys’ fees from that District, though that amount was subsequently reduced by the trial court and upheld on appeal.

In 2013, the ABC Unified School District was also sued under the CVRA. The school district transitioned from conducting board elections at-large to a by-trustee area elections methodology pursuant to a settlement with the plaintiffs. During this transition process, the school district also requested and received a waiver from the State Board of Education. Plaintiffs in that lawsuit were paid the sum of $140,000 pursuant to a settlement agreement.

In May of 2015, the City of Palmdale settled the CVRA lawsuit that had been filed against it after trial for $4.5 million plus interest.

Orange County Districts who have Transitioned to By-Trustee Area Elections:

To date, 16 Orange County school districts, community college districts, and the county office of education have already established trustee areas and changed their method of election to by-trustee areas, with six districts currently in the process of establishing or considering trustee areas and changing to a by-trustee area election method.