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Latin Advocacy Group Sues ABC Unified School District

The group claims the district's at-large voting system has kept Latinos out of office.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (MALDEF) brought suit this week against the ABC Unified School District, which includes Artesia and Cerritos as well as other neighboring areas, claiming the district's voting system has denied Latino residents effective political participation in board elections.

The self-described Latino legal civil rights organization, working on behalf of plaintiffs Olga Rios of Lakewood, Mariana Rios of Hawaiian Gardens and Thomas Chavez of Norwalk, claim the district's at-large voting is rigged against Latino voters, violating the California Voting Rights Act.

At-large systems are those in which all voters can vote for all seats up for an election. In its suit, MALDEF calls for adoption of an election system using smaller districts within the school district area in which voters within the sub districts would elect a representative from that specific area.

The suit claims that despite there being a Latino voting age population of about 23 percent in the district area, there have been no Latino members of the seven-member board in more than 15 years, and MALDEF uses this to argue Latino voters face a lack of access to the political process.

The Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder's office was unable to provide Patch with a the number of registered Latino voters within the district's 56,040 total registered voters. That number could vary greatly from the number of Latinos over 18.

Currently, all seven board members live in Cerritos, which has the largest population in the district. Of the seven, three are Asian, two are white and two are Filipino, according to the Los Angeles Times.

The school district conducted a full demographic study earlier this year, when it received an initial complaint letter about the voting system. Superintendent Mary Sieu said the district's legal counsel found it "did not violate the California Voting Rights Act based on polarizations during the elections," reported EdSource.com.

The board will meet in a closed session next week to discuss the litigation.

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