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Thursday, July 25, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Dallas Suburb Didn’t Violate Voting Rights Act

(CN) - Hispanic voters in a Dallas suburb failed to convince the 5th Circuit that the suburb's process of electing city council members dilutes the Hispanic vote.

Farmers Branch, Texas, allows all voters to vote for each of the five slots for city council, regardless of where they live.

A group of Hispanic voters promoting single-member districts said the current system dilutes the votes of Hispanic residents in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

They argued that there was a Hispanic majority in one of the five districts - the so-called "demonstration" district.

To back up this claim, they cited a 2006 estimate by the Texas Legislative Council that 52.5 percent of registered voters in that district had Spanish surnames, despite a census estimate of 46.5 percent.

The plaintiffs argued that the census data left out some voters who were, in fact, Hispanic. After a door-to-door campaign to verify Hispanics of voting age, the plaintiffs said the actual percentage was more like 50.7 percent.

But the district court discredited this calculation, saying the plaintifs' expert had accounted only for "omission" errors, not errors of "commission." In other words, the expert adjusted for voters who hadn't been included in the Spanish surname list, but failed to adjust for non-Hispanic voters who were erroneously counted in the list.

The plaintiffs also argued that the census data had been skewed by the fact that fewer Hispanics register to vote than non-Hispanics.

The New Orleans-based appeals court agreed with the lower court that the plaintiffs failed to show a Hispanic majority in the demonstration district.

The plaintiffs had also insisted that the Supreme Court's decision in Barlett v. Strickland overrode a 5th Circuit precedent that citizenship was a required factor in voting-age population. Plaintiffs argued that the numbers should be based on voting-age Hispanic residents, not citizens.

The 5th Circuit rejected this interpretation of the high court's ruling, pointing to language that "evidences the vitality of the citizenship requirement."

"This court's rule requiring an inquiry into citizenship ... remains good law," Judge Patrick Higginbotham concluded.

The appellate panel rejected the plaintiffs' remaining arguments and affirmed.

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