The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund will push for new supervisorial district boundaries in Kern County in 2018.
Denise Hulett, the lead attorney on MALDEF’s case against the County of Kern, said an immediate remedy is required.
“What Kern County is going to be asking to do is go forward again with an illegal plan,” Hulett said. “We’re going to ask the court to enjoin any use of this illegal plan.”
On Friday, U.S. District Court Judge Dale Drozd ruled that the Supervisorial District boundaries the Kern County Board of Supervisors drew in 2011 were drawn in violation of the U.S. Voting Rights Act and stripped Latino voters of their chance to elect a second Latino supervisor.
Supervisors Mike Maggard and Zack Scrivner were the only two supervisors on the board at the time the lines were drawn. And they are the two supervisors up for re-election this year.
Attorney Chris Skinnel, one of the team of attorneys hired by Kern County to defend the current lines in court, said their team will fight any attempt to force new lines into this year’s political races.
He argued Monday that case law indicates that, “once the train is moving down the track on an election the courts shouldn’t mess with that.”
The case goes back to Drozd in Fresno on March 6, just days before the final candidate filing period for June’s primary election for Kern County Supervisor ends.
Hulett said any argument that it’s just too late to change the boundaries before an election in 2018 is hypocritical.
Kern County and its lawyers knew MALDEF had strong proof of their case months before Drozd’s ruling, she said, but they insisted on hiding the fact that their expert witnesses agreed with the findings made by MALDEF experts and pursued an expensive court case anyway.
Now they’ve lost, Hulett said, and Kern County needs to fix its problem.
If that means delaying an election until November then the county needs to do what is necessary to run an election in 2018 that complies with federal voting rights laws, she said.
Skinnel questioned just how strong Drozd’s ruling is.
He said the county could appeal any demand for a 2018 boundary change to the 9th District Court of Appeal.
At some point — either now or in the future — Kern County will need to draw new boundaries to comply with this judge’s ruling, if it stands.
The new map would need to create two districts where Latino citizens of voting age represent the majority of the district’s voters.
Currently only District 5, represented by Supervisor Leticia Perez, is a ”minority majority” district.
Illustrative maps of the possible ways to redraw the supervisorial map, offered by MALDEF as evidence at trial, show sweeping changes.
They move all of east Kern County – a sparsely populated, conservative, Caucasian area – into a single district rather than the current two districts.
And they combine all of north Kern County’s rural, Latino communities including Wasco, Delano, Shafter and McFarland into a Latino-heavy district with other areas of the county.
If that happens – for example - Kern County Supervisor Mick Gleason could be pushed into the same district as Scrivner.
That could force supervisors to decide which of their peers keeps their seat and which doesn’t.
Skinner said he believes the county has a good case against Drozd’s ruling.
“I think that the order is unassailable,” Hulett responded. “We have proven that Latinos support Latino candidates and other voters, in general, don’t. That’s why it's time to face the music.”