CIRS Blog about Rural California

By Paulina Rojas

MECCA, Calif. — Many residents of the Eastern Coachella Valley want to vote but don’t have a way to get to the polls. Those without cars are often forced to walk more than a mile to the nearest bus stop or to pay $20 or more for a ride to their closest polling place.

For people in rural communities, lack of transportation can be one of the biggest roadblocks to voting.

Luckily, there’s an easy way for them to vote: casting a ballot by mail. When registering to vote, constituents can to request a vote-by-mail ballot. 

“The vote by mail process can be more convenient for voters who are unable, or unwilling, to contend with going out of their way on Election Day,” said Luz Gallegos, community programs director at TODEC (Training Occupational Development Educating Communities) Legal Center. “Specifically in the Eastern Coachella Valley where [there is a] lack of infrastructure, with transportation being one of headlining issues, the vote-by-mail option is more convenient for residents.”

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PALM DESERT —The Coachella Valley Water District voted to scrap its at-large election system on Tuesday after a complain­t by a group of voters that argued the system violated the California Voting Rights Act and was unfair to Latin­o residents.

The water agency’s five-member board voted unanimously to make the change, joining a growing list of cities and school districts across California that have similarly altered how elections are held in response to legal challenges.

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COACHELLA — Responding to a complaint by a group of Latino voters, the Coachella Valley Water District board will study whether to change its election system.

The water district’s board took up the issue Tuesday after civil rights lawyers representing several voters notified the agency in a letter that they believe the at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”

MORE: At-large Coachella Valley Water District elections violate state law, group says

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THERMAL — Fed up with the lack of water and sewer service in their rural communities, a group of Latino voters is demanding that the Coachella Valley Water District change its election system to give them greater influence on an elected board that doesn’t have a single Latino member.

Civil rights lawyers Robert Rubin and Megan Beaman, who represent the group of several voters, told the water board’s president in a letter on Monday that they believe the agency’s at-large election system violates the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 and “dilutes the ability of Latino constituents to elect candidates of their choice.”

The letter, the first step toward a possible civil rights lawsuit, highlights wide disparities between income and influence in the predominantly Latino eastern portion of the Coachella Valley and the predominantly white and wealthier west valley.

(VIDEO: East valley wants CVWD services and access)

 

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(All names used are pseudonyms, in order to preserve interviewees' confidentiality)

 

Nadia: "You really can't run against a white guy. You can't. You're going to lose, regardless whether the population, whether we outnumber them. I think they'll still win."

 

Interviewer: "Why do you think that?"

 

Nadia: "I think they can brainwash us, because we work for them. In farm labor. We work for them in the rice fields. We work for them in the orchards. We work for them."

 

 

 

In Colusa County (located in the northern Sacramento Valley), Latinos comprise 55 percent of the total population, but there are no Latino representatives on the two city councils or among the five county supervisors (US Census, 2010).[i] In fact, there are only two Latino elected officials in the entire county: one on a local school board and the other on the county’s school board. As of March 2012, there were 14 majority-minority[ii] cities in California with all non-Latino white city councils, and there were 20 majority-minority California cities with only one minority member on the city council.[iii] With similar situations arising in political districts across the United States, the study of the potential causes for this phenomenon is timely.

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