||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||April 1, 2002|
William D. Barr, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools
Monterey County Office of Education
P.O. Box 80851
Salinas, California 93912-0851
Dear Dr. Barr:
This refers to the change in the method of electing school
trustees from districts to at large for the Chualar Union
Elementary School District in Monterey County, California,
submitted to the Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the
Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your responses
to our September 19, 2000, request for additional information on
April 20, 2001, and January 31, 2002.
We have carefully considered the information you have
provided, as well as census data, comments and information from
other interested parties, and other information, including the
district's previous submission, which instituted the districting
system for the election of trustees. Based on our analysis of
the information you have provided, on behalf of the Attorney
General, I am compelled to object to the submitted change in the
method of election.
According to the 2000 Census, the school district has a
total population of 2,365, of whom 1,846 (78.1%) are Hispanic.
Hispanic residents comprise 74.4 percent of the voting age
population. Approximately 55 percent of the registered voters in
the district are Spanish-surnamed individuals.
Prior to 1995, the school district elected its five-member
board of trustees on an at-large basis. At that time, the
majority-Hispanic board, enacted the method of election currently
in effect. Hispanic voters under this system have the
opportunity to elect candidates of choice in a three-person,
multi-member election district, Trustee Area 3, which has a
Hispanic population percentage of over 90 percent. The school
district now proposes to reinstitute the at-large method of
election. Our analysis persuades us that the school district has
not established, as it must, that this change in the method of
election is not being implemented for the purpose of effectuating
a retrogression in minority voters' effective exercise of the
electoral franchise and that it will not have such a proscribed
We have examined the circumstances surrounding the
initiation of the petition drive, which led to the referendum on
the proposed change. The starting point of our analysis
concerning whether the petition was motivated by an intent to
retrogress is Village of
Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan
Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252 (1977). There, the
Supreme Court identified the analytical structure for determining
whether racially discriminatory intent exists. This approach
requires an inquiry into: 1) the impact of the decision; 2) the
historical background of the decision, particularly if it reveals
a series of decisions undertaken with discriminatory intent; 3)
the sequence of events leading up to the decision; and 4) whether
the challenged decision departs, either procedurally or
substantively, from the normal practice, and contemporaneous
statements and viewpoints held by the decision-makers.
As we understand it, the actions of the trustees elected
from Area 3, a majority-Hispanic district, regarding the tenure
of the district's superintendent of schools provided the impetus
for the petition drive. The cover letter, which accompanied the
petition, made note of this activity and then attacked the
credibility of the trustees from that district, citing the
language skills of one trustee and making unfavorable references
to the language preferences of another. The language and tone of
the letter raises the implication that the petition drive and
resulting change was motivated, at least in part, by a
discriminatory animus. This conclusion is further supported by
statements made by proponents of the petition during our
Moreover, the petition focused on the actions of the persons
elected by the Hispanic community in Area 3. However, over 90
percent of the persons signing the petition did not reside in
that district. Rather, they were residents of Area 1, virtually
all of whom were not Spanish-surnamed persons.
There is also evidence that the change will, in fact, have a
retrogressive effect. Under the at-large system in the past,
Hispanic voters have had only mixed success, and have faced
consistent efforts - sometimes successful - to recall the
candidates they have elected. Since the implementation of
district elections, Hispanic voters have been able to elect
candidates of choice, who have not been subject to recall by non-Hispanic
voters. It is also apparent that even though voter
registration is majority Spanish surnamed, this majority is not
large and other voters often have been able to defeat Hispanic
candidates of choice in district-wide elections. Indeed, during
the referendum election which took place under highly charged,
racially polarized circumstances, the non-Hispanic proponents
easily defeated the Hispanic opposition.
The school district has failed to establish that the
reversion to an at-large method of election will offer the same
ability to Hispanic voters to exercise the electoral franchise
that they enjoy currently. A voting change has a discriminatory
effect if it will lead to a retrogression in the position of
members of a racial or language minority group (
i.e., will make members of such a group worse off than they had been before the
change) with respect to their opportunity to exercise the electoral franchise effectively.
Bossier Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320, 328 (2000);
Beer v. United States, 425 U.S.
130, 140-42 (1976).
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the submitting
authority has the burden of showing that a submitted change has
neither a discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect.
United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); see also the Procedures for the Administration of
Section 5 (28 C.F.R. 51.52). In light of the considerations discussed above, I cannot
conclude that your burden has been sustained in this instance. Therefore, on behalf of the
Attorney General, I must object to the change in the method of election.
We note that under Section 5 you have the right to seek a
declaratory judgment from the United States District Court for
the District of Columbia that the proposed change neither has the
purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the
right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a
language minority group. See 28 C.F.R. 51.44. In addition, you
may request that the Attorney General reconsider the objection.
See 28 C.F.R. 51.45. However, until the objection is withdrawn
or a judgment from the District of Columbia Court is obtained,
the submitted plan continues to be legally unenforceable.
v. Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action the Chualar
Union Elementary School District plans to take concerning this
matter. If you have any questions, you should call Ms. Judith
Reed (202-305-0164), an attorney in the Voting Section.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division