HUNTINGTON BEACH The courthouse could be the next step for city officials, as they prepare to fight a claim that the city is in violation of the California Voting Rights Act, which promotes greater minority representation in elections.
After receiving a letter in April from the Shenkman and Hughes law office that urged Huntington Beach to “voluntarily change its at-large system of electing council members” or face a legal challenge, Huntington Beach is pushing back.
“We are prepared to vigorously defend any lawsuit,” City Attorney Michael Gates wrote in a May 18 response to the letter’s claim the city’s elections were “racially polarizing, resulting in minority vote dilution.”
Attorney Kevin Shenkman called the response “a bizarre combination of confusion and combativeness.”
“I don’t think the letter invited a response,” he said. “Our response will be in the form of a lawsuit.”
Shenkman’s firm is known for successfully challenging and suing cities to adopt district election practices in accordance with the voting rights act.
Vista and Lake Forest have begun the process of switching to district elections after receiving April letters from Shenkman, and other Orange County cities such as Costa Mesa, Placentia and Fullerton voted in November to switch to district representation. In November, San Juan Capistrano held its first district elections after being sued by clients of Shenkman and Hughes. In 2014, Anaheim was the first Orange County city council to settle a suit by switching to district elections. Buena Park and Garden Grove followed suit.
In 2015, the city of Palmdale paid the Shenkman firm $4.5 million in fees and interest to settle a suit before agreeing to district elections.
Passed in 2001, the state act is an expansion of the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, intending to make it easier for minority voters to elect representatives of their choosing. Minority groups can claim racial polarization if they are not…