SANTA ANA, CA - The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California filed suit today to enjoin the City of Santa Ana from implementing a count of mail-in ballots for a neighborhood traffic plan which residents of the French Court section of the city feel unfairly disenfranchises them on the basis of property ownership. In addition, residents of the Logan section, many of whom are directly affected by the traffic plan, which includes a barrier across Washington Avenue at Poinsettia, are also being disenfranchised.
Concerned with what they described as heavy traffic congestion along a major street, residents of the historic French Park section of Santa Ana proposed setting up barriers to reduce the flow of traffic into their area. After meeting with residents of French Park as well as residents of the predominantly working class French Court area to discuss an upcoming neighborhood ballot to approve a trial version of the "French Park Neighborhood Traffic Plan," the city of Santa Ana mailed ballots to eligible voters in French Park and French Court. The voters approved the traffic plan on a trial basis by a 66 to 60 vote. However, with few exceptions, only property owners were declared eligible to vote on the traffic plan; home owners were allotted one vote while residents of apartments, which are concentrated in the French Court section, were not allowed to vote - only the apartment owners were given a vote on the traffic plan. Additionally, individual condominium owners are not allowed to vote, instead the condominium association as a whole is given one vote. This resulted in a disproportionate number of votes in the more affluent French Park section.
"It is outrageous to think that people are being told that they can't vote unless they own property," said Peter Eliasberg, Managing Attorney with the ACLU/SC. "It turns the whole concept of one person one vote on its head. People have a right to a vote whether they live in old colonial revival homes or apartment buildings, and I think the facts are clearly on our side."
There are approximately 289 households in the French Park area compared to 850 households in the French Court neighborhood. Yet a total of 236 ballots were mailed out to people in French Park while French Court received only 111 ballots, in other words, approximately 82% of the households in French Park received a ballot, while 11% of the households in French Court did.
"As condominium owner, I am not given an individual vote because the current voting rules only allocate one vote per condominium association," said French Court resident, Wade Little. "There is a gross disproportion between the numbers of votes allocated to French Park and French Court."
Josephine Andrade, a resident of the Logan neighborhood, was not allowed to vote on the traffic plan because the city's Public Works Agency did not classify her neighborhood as an "impacted area" even though she lives less than three blocks from one of the temporary barriers that were installed.
"Since the Public Works Agency installed the barrier, I have had difficulty passing through the pedestrian sidewalk at the Washington barrier," said Andrade. "I am a person living with a disability and often transport myself around the neighborhood with my wheelchair. I live less than three blocks from the barrier yet I did not receive a ballot and am not entitled to vote in the French Park Traffic Plan election."
The ACLU of Southern California is seeking to enjoin the counting of mail-in ballots until a more equitable voting scheme is set up and also prevent the city from holding any election related to the traffic plan where the vote is restricted on any basis other than age or residence of the City of Santa Ana.
The current ballots must be postmarked by Friday, July 25th.
"It is amazing to me that someone had the nerve to draw up this voting scheme," said Eliasberg. "We're not going to harken back to the days when only a 'landed class' could participate in a democracy."