Thursday, July 16, 2015

Grand Prairie redistricting to boost Latinos’ election chances

"The Grand Prairie City Council agreed Tuesday to redraw its boundaries to settle a lawsuit alleging violations of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The new map alters all single-member districts and is expected to give Hispanics a greater opportunity to win in Districts 3 and 5.

The federal lawsuit contended that the city’s electoral system was set up in “favor of self-interest and maintaining the existing power structure.” All council members are non-Hispanic whites, although the city population is 43 percent Hispanic.

...“Our client is pleased that the Grand Prairie City Council agreed to create two new majority Latino electoral districts,” said plaintiff ’s attorney William A. Brewer III. “The new districts will provide the city’s Latino residents a greater opportunity to participate in the political process. We also hope that the council’s actions will be instructive to other cities and school districts across the state.”

An earlier lawsuit, which Rodriguez filed against the Grand Prairie school district, led the district to replace its at-large seats with single-member district seats. His attorneys were from Brewer Storefront, a pro bono firm that represented minority voters in similar cases in other cities and school districts."

In what is being heralded as a potential test-case for the Supreme Court, a group of Hispanic residents in Pasadena, Texas filed a lawsuit alleging that the city’s electoral system dilutes their political power under the Voting Rights Act.

Since 1992, Pasadena had used single-member districts to elect its eight person city council. A 2013 ballot initiative narrowly passed by voters replaced two of the single-member districts with seats elected at-large. Hispanic voters claim this tactic was intended to reduce representation of the city’s growing Hispanic population, with Nina Perales of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund arguing that the timing was not incidental: “It was starting to look like very soon Latino candidates of choice would be a majority on the council. And that’s the point at which the mayor announces following the Shelby decision, let’s change these seats back to at-large.”

With claims that the new council structure was intentionally discriminatory, the case could be a test of what power remains in the Voting Rights Act after the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision gutting the Voting Rights Act.
A new suit filed by the ACLU and Missouri NAACP contends, however, that the electoral systems being used in Ferguson also contribute to the African-American community’s lack of effective political power by “locking African-Americans out of the political process” through use of at-large elections.

The suit targets the Ferguson-Florissant School District, where only one of seven trustees is African American despite the fact that African Americans make up a substantial minority in the district and 77% of the district’s school children. Drawing single member districts, the plaintiffs say, would make it easier in the face of racially polarized voting for African Americans to elect genuine community representatives.

...the typical remedy in these suits is the creation of single-member districts
Fayette County, Georgia:

This past November marked the first time in history that elections in Fayette County, Georgia were determined under a district system rather than at-large voting. The change came as a result of a lawsuit filed against the county by the NAACP more than three years ago claiming that the at-large voting system violated the Voting Rights Act because it prevented minorities from being elected to the school board and county commission. U.S. District Judge Timothy Batten agreed, ruling in early 2014 that the at-large system must be replaced with five voting districts."