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Gerrymandering is the process of setting electoral districts that establish a political advantage for a party or group by manipulating district boundaries.

An attorney has alleged “the city’s at-large elections illegally abridge the voting rights of Latino voters …” The basis for his allegation is that “only two of the four Latino candidates for City Council have been elected, despite Latinos constituting 54.4 percent of the population … as of 2015.”

The attorney clearly established that Latino’s are the majority population in Lompoc, and I can’t dispute that claim. This is an important fact to consider, because it has a direct bearing on this discussion.

In the past, electoral districts in many regions of the United Sates were gerrymandered by politicians to either favor one racial group or one political party. In fact, the last time Santa Barbara County redistributed election district boundaries it was cleverly done specifically to preserve the heavily-liberal political demographics of the 3rd District, thus assuring that more conservative supervisors from the Santa Maria and Lompoc valleys would remain a minority voice on the Board of Supervisors.

Many decades ago minority groups that had been discriminated against in years past lobbied Congress and local governments to change the rules so there was a more even division of ethnic/political voting power within each district.

Lawsuits on the matter were litigated, but what resulted was less than perfect, as politicians found ways to circumvent the intent of the new rules. Many examples exist across the United States where boundaries were established specifically to benefit ethnic groups or political parties.

The city of Lompoc has long had a policy of at-large, non-partisan elections for mayor and council members. This process has served the community well for many decades and allowed for equal representation of all voters. Latinos have run and been elected to office using this model.

Some well-meaning, but purely-partisan people have demanded and convinced the city through coercion to change the way the people’s representatives are chosen.

Instead of an inclusive election system, they favor gerrymandering the districts to favor one specific ethnic group, which is both prejudicial and discriminatory to other racial groups. How this maneuver stood the test in courts is a mystery.

Now the proposal is to divide the city by ethnic population rather than the number of registered voters to create the new districts. This will heavily favor the southern and more densely populated portion of the city.

Using population demographics as a guide is a flawed process because while the population of an area may be heavily in favor of one or another racial group, not all people in that group would be registered voters. The best example is minor children and those adults who simply don’t register.

The bottom line is that dividing a community along ethnic lines for any reason is both divisive and racist. Why would anyone want to take this kind of action in an otherwise harmonious community that was intended to do that?

The City Council, on its attorney’s advice, chose to pay the offended parties attorney fees and then pay a consultant to methodically divide the community.

What will be gained by all this is yet to be determined, but as far as elective politics go it sets us back 50 years to a time we would all like to forget.

Ron Fink is a local activist and can be reached at: rfink@impulse.net.

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