Hart District Board Members Vote 4-1 To Move School Board Elections
Hart district members voted 4-1, with board President Joe Messina as the lone dissenting vote, in a move that proposes changing the school district's elections from odd-numbered years to even-numbered years.
In addition to potentially saving the district more than $100,000, the move is also expected to increase voter participation, and potentially save the district from costly litigation.
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"This is something that has been discussed with all four other elementary districts and the community college districts, and the main concept has been to increase voter participation," said Gail Pinsker, Hart district spokeswoman.
The savings comes from having the state pay for the cost of hosting the election, as opposed to paying the county for the cost of casting ballots.
The move also helps the district avoid potential litigation, said Hart district board member Gloria Mercado-Fortine.
Lancaster Mayor R. Rex Parris announced last Monday he has signed on as co-counsel for a voting rights lawsuit brought against Palmdale over the California Voter Rights Act.
“We’re trying to be proactive here,” said Gloria Mercado-Fortine, a board member who said she didn’t necessarily agree with the move, but said that it needed to be looked at, because the district had a responsibility to protect itself from “potentially costly” litigation.
The CRVA is legislation that was signed into law in 2002, recently upheld as a constitutional extension of the Voter Rights Act of 1965.
The move is meant to help minority voters who sued over disenfranchisement with the electoral process, citing a lack of representation in elections.
“I’m frankly not in favor it,” said Messina, regarding a potential move of elections.
Messina said having school and city council elections in so-called "off years," so that they don’t coincide with partisan ballots, such as the president and governor, the results are driven by a more informed electorate -- as opposed to those who may just be voting along party lines.
“When you’re talking about a city like Santa Clarita, between school board, the water board and city council, we’re going to get lost in the pages,” Messina said.
Furthermore, he said the governing board for the 23,000-student William S. Hart Union High School District doesn’t have the same problems that are faced by its neighbors to the northeast.
Changing the status quo could also create problems that currently dont exist, he said.
“There are three things we’re supposed to do,” he said, in regard to California Voter Act compliance. “A demographics survey, and that found that at (the Hart district), we’re in line with the demographics (of the Santa Clarita Valley).”
Another part of compliance with the California Voter Act would prompt each portion of the district to have its own representative.
"Every seat would represent an area -- it would be a nightmare for (the Hart district) -- I think that's nuts," Messina said. "Now you're putting me in a position where i have to fight for money for an area.
"(Right now), we’re all fighting for (the Hart district) -- we're fighting for every school in the Hart district," he said. "You put us in seats and that's going to change.
Parris, a prominent litigation attorney, claimed his hometown's method of electing City Council members by a citywide vote rather than through individual districts is keeping black and Hispanic candidates out of office.
"Despite a Latino population of approximately 54.4 percent and an African-American population of 14.8 percent in the city of Palmdale, only one Latino and not a single African-American has ever been elected to Palmdale's City Council," Parris said in a statement.
NBClosangeles.com contributed to this story.