SANTA CLARA (KPIX 5) — Asian Americans make up about a third of Santa Clara’s population, but you would never know it by looking at the faces on the city council. Now, Asian American voters are taking the city to court to make their political voices heard.
Wesley Mukoyama is a plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against Santa Clara which accuses the city of setting up a voting system that discriminates against Asian Americans by diluting their votes.
Mukoyama has lived in Santa Clara for 44 years. He says he loves the city. But when it comes to local elections something’s wrong.
“I feel ignored. I feel disenfranchised,” said Mukoyama. “I’m just a resident and I think we should have better representation.”
“In the history of Santa Clara, which elects its council members at large, there has never been an Asian American who has been successful,” said Richard Konda of the Asian Law Alliance.
“At large” means all voters in the city cast ballots for all the same candidates, as opposed to district elections where sections of the city vote for their own representatives.
The Asian Law Alliance, which is backing the voting rights suit, says the 2016 election saw five Asians running for city council seats but none were elected – in a city that is 30 percent Asian.
“There is racially polarized voting in the city of Santa Clara,” said Konda.
City officials say a June ballot measure addresses the issue. Measure A would divide the city into two districts, with ranked choice voting determining the winners in each district.
Mayor Lisa Gillmor said in a statement, “Measure a is a grass roots community solution established by residents of the City of Santa Clara to update the way future council members would be elected.”
But Mukoyama says Measure A doesn’t go far enough. “I think it’s a sham,” said Mukoyama. “I think it because they want to stay in power. Going from one district to two districts doesn’t make many changes at all.”
Plaintiffs say they have asked the city to make changes for years, but were always denied. Now, a judge could force Santa Clara to move to district elections.