A judge who ruled that Palmdale's method of choosing its leaders short-changes minorities issued an injunction Monday that could cancel the Nov. 5 City Council election.
Superior Court Judge Mark Mooney barred the Antelope Valley community from holding an election that relies on citywide balloting rather than voting by individual districts. The election could only proceed if the system is changed to a district-based system or some other method is found to rectify problems, his ruling said.
With the election five weeks away, Palmdale already has sent absentee ballots but they wouldn't be counted if the injunction stands. The city 70 miles north of Los Angeles indicated that it would seek an emergency appeal.
Mooney ruled in August that the current system violates California's Voting Rights Act by diluting the votes of Latinos and blacks, who make up about 69 percent of the population in a city of 154,000. Only one Latino and not a single African-American has ever been elected to the council.
The Voting Rights Act has been used to sue several cities since it was adopted in 2002. One was Modesto, which switched to district voting as a result.
However, Palmdale has resisted, with officials noting that a majority of California cities use an at-large method of electing councilmembers similar to Palmdale's.
Despite the ruling, the city "just simply ignored it and pressed on with holding one more such illegal election," said Kevin Shenkman, one of the attorneys for a resident who sued over the election system.
The preliminary injunction was praised by another attorney for the plaintiff.
"For far too long already, the African-American and Latino citizens of Palmdale have been disenfranchised. No longer should they be forced to wait for their rights while the city thumbs its nose at the law," said R. Rex Parris, who also is mayor of neighboring Lancaster.
But City Attorney Matthew Ditzhazy urged those with absentee ballots to vote and mail them in, calling the ruling unprecedented and radical.
"It strikes at the heart of our republic, directly thwarting the will of the people," Ditzhazy said in a statement.
Ditzhazy also argued that the injunction would actually be counterproductive because it would block an election where three of four candidates for two council seats are minorities.