The Palm Springs City Council voted unanimously to move forward with the process to switch the city’s voting from a city-wide election to district-based, reports the Desert Sun.
Council member Geoff Kors, part of a committee that studied the issue and recommended the council move forward with districts, said the council supported promoting minority voting rights, but it was also compelled to make the switch because of the potentially devastating costs of a lawsuit that the city would likely lose.
The decision comes about six weeks after the city received a letter from a high-powered Malibu law firm, representing the Southwest Voter Registration Education Project, which threatened to sue Palm Springs for violation the California Voting Rights Act if it did not make the change. Similar letters have been sent to jurisdictions around California. Most made the change voluntarily. A few have refused and ended up in court battles costing millions. None of those challenges have been successful.
The newspaper notes that the most recent census shows that 25 percent of the city’s residents are Latino, while all five of the current council members are white.
In the letter, an attorney from Shenkman and Hughes said the city’s style of elections had led to “racially polarized voting” and had “diminished” the impact of Latino residents in local elections. Palm Springs has retained a demographer to examine voting records for examples of racially polarized voting, but city officials said the results of the study were not available Thursday.
According to the most recent census, about 25 percent of Palm Springs residents were Latino. All five sitting Council members are white.
Palm Springs will join Cathedral City and Indio in having district elections after those cities voted in the system last year. The Desert Healthcare District also has elections of their board of directors will also be by district beginning this November.