DALLAS (CN) – At-large elections for a Texas city council are illegal and violate the Voting Rights Act, a federal judge ruled, siding with Hispanic voters who brought the challenge.
Hispanics made up approximately 24 percent of the citizen voting age population in Farmer’s Branch, according to the 2010 census. Yet no Hispanic has ever been elected as mayor or to the city council under the city’s at-large elections.
At least four recent elections have involved Hispanic candidates for city council who lost despite receiving a majority of the Hispanic vote.
“Plaintiffs have proved, under the totality of the circumstances, that Hispanics in Farmers Branch have less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice,”
U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater wrote Thursday.
Several factors indicate the presence of a voting rights violation, Fitzwater said, noting racially charged history of city council elections in Farmer’s Branch and continued hostility against Hispanics by elected officials.
Beginning in 2007, the all-white, all-male city council of Farmers Branch passed ordinances that prevented landlords from renting to illegal aliens in the city, resulting in several lawsuits.
“It is well-established that the existence of racially polarized voting and the extent to which minority group members have been elected to public office are the most important factors to be considered in a totality determination,” the 41-page opinion states. “Both of these factors favor plaintiffs. Plaintiffs have proved that the City Council elections in 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2011 were moderately to highly racially polarized, because Hispanic candidates received support from an estimated 54.1% to 88.1% of Hispanic voters compared to only 2.0% to 42.1% of non-Hispanic voters.”
“Plaintiffs have established that the Farmers Branch City Council passed Resolution No. 2006-130, which ‘declar[es] English as the official language of the city of Farmers Branch,'” Fitzwater added. “There is evidence of at least one proposal to eliminate foreign language materials from the library. And plaintiff Alfonso Baladez testified that he did not vote in the 2011 City Council election because he ‘gave up,’ – ‘the people that [he] voted for were never elected. And there was nobody there representing the community, the Hispanic community.'”
Although this testimony does not fall within one of the totality of the circumstances factors, it does suggest that the perception that the Farmers Branch at-large system dilutes the Hispanic vote hinders effective participation in the political process.
Farmer’s Branch has 60 days to submit a plan that remedies the violation.