A lawsuit backed by the California Democratic Party is seeking to delay the June 22 special election to fill Lt. Gov. Abel Maldonado's Senate seat.
The lawsuit, which is to be filed today in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Jose, is the latest salvo in the ongoing squabble over the special elections.
Democrats cried foul when Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger passed on consolidating the special election with the November election, pointing to the extra cost of holding additional elections. (Of course, a November election would also boost turnout, and, some say, their chances at winning the GOP-held seat). The counties have joined in the complaints, saying holding a special election two weeks after the June primary is a logistical nightmare.
In the latest attempt to push the election to November, attorneys filing the suit will argue that the date set for the special primary election puts one of the counties in the 15th Senate District in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act.
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Monterey County, one of five counties included in the Senate district, is required under Section 5 of the 1965 law to submit any changes in voting for approval by the U.S. Department of Justice. The pre-clearance requirement stems from a past that included voting discrimination.
The lawsuit argues that a special election constitutes a change in voting and that the June 22 date does not allow enough time for the Justice Department to give its OK. Under the act, the feds have 60 days to review a voting-change request. That means the county would have had to submit the request several days before the special election was even called.
The suit will ask the court to issue a temporary restraining order to stop the county from preparing to hold the election until it gets pre-clearance from the Justice Department.
Of course, by that point it could be too late for the county to put on the special election. And by paralyzing one county's election-holding capabilities, the suit would effectively put a district-wide hold on the contest.
If the request is granted, possible scenarios include Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger calling a new, later election date that would comply with the pre-clearance requirements or the county petitioning the court to step in and set a new date.
Seattle University School of Law professor Joaquin Avila, former general counsel for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, and the San Francisco firm Rosen, Bien & Galvan have filed the suit on behalf of three Latino registered voters in the district. Legal fees are being covered by the state Democratic Party.
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor's office wouldn't comment on the challenge until seeing the lawsuit.
McLear also reiterated the Schwarzenegger administration's stance that the Assembly dropped the ball on saving costs through consolidation when it failed to approve Maldonado's nomination in time to consolidate an election with the June primary the first time he was nominated and added that the governor expects the Legislature to reimburse the counties for the costs of holding the election.
The lawsuit's filers will present more details at a 10 a.m. press conference today at Sacramento Superior Court.