The ACLU Foundation of Southern California (ACLU SoCal), Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles (Advancing Justice – LA), the Law Office of Robert Rubin, and Sidley Austin, LLP sued the City of Fullerton today for violating the California Voting Rights Act (CVRA).
The lawsuit was brought on behalf of Jonathan Paik, a representative of Fullerton’s sizeable Asian American population, alleging that the city’s current at-large system for electing city council members denies large segments of the community— especially Asian Americans — a voice in how their city is governed.
“We are asking the city of Fullerton to implement elections that make sure that all communities, including the Asian American community, have an opportunity to elect candidates of their choice and that the city council is responsive to the needs of all Fullerton residents,” said Belinda Escobosa Helzer, director of the Orange County and Inland Empire offices of the ACLU SoCal. “No one wins when some residents are shut out of government.”
The CVRA prevents cities from imposing at-large elections that deny minority communities the opportunity to elect candidates of their choice or influence the outcome of elections. Under Fullerton’s at-large election system, all five city council members are elected by every voter in the city, regardless of where the candidate and voter live, resulting in members who are unaccountable to many communities they purport to represent.
District elections, like those recently adopted in Anaheim, however, would require each of the council members to live in the district they represent and be elected by voters in that district, providing all voting residents, especially minorities, with government representatives that are responsive to their concerns.
Fullerton has a population of just over 135,100, according to the U.S. Census, making it one of the largest cities in California to use at-large elections. Korean Americans make up nearly 12% of the population, while Chinese, Filipino, and South Asian Americans each make up around 3% of the city’s population.
“Almost one in four eligible voters in Fullerton is Asian American, yet despite their sizeable numbers, no Asian American currently serves on the city council,” said Deanna Kitamura, senior staff attorney at Advancing Justice – LA. “Asian American candidates, who have run for office and enjoyed widespread support from the Asian American community, have been consistently defeated under the at-large voting system, denying the community meaningful and fair representation in the city.”
“Asian American voters long to participate in Fullerton’s city government, but the current at-large system prevents that by diluting our power at the ballot box,” said Jonathan Paik, the plaintiff and Fullerton resident. “We join with other voices in our community in calling for a change that provides all residents in this city an opportunity to have a seat at the table.”
Robert Rubin, longtime civil rights attorney who has been involved in most of the CVRA cases, said the “the current discriminatory election system only discourages voting and undermines democracy.”
Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles is the nation’s largest Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) legal and civil rights organization and serves more than 15,000 individuals and organizations every year. Founded in 1983 as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center, Advancing Justice – LA’s mission is to advocate for civil rights, provide legal services and education, and build coalitions to positively influence and impact Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and to create a more equitable and harmonious society. Through direct legal services, impact litigation, policy analysis and advocacy, leadership development and capacity building, Advancing Justice – LA seeks to serve the most vulnerable members of the AANHPI community while also building a strong AANHPI voice for civil rights and social justice.