(CN) – Hispanic voters aren’t getting an equal voice in a Dallas suburb’s city council and mayoral elections, a federal judge in Dallas ruled Wednesday.
The city of Irving, just west of downtown Dallas and home to the Dallas Cowboys headquarters, uses an at-large system to elect city council members. All districts vote for the same pool of candidates.
If candidates could run in separate districts, some majority-Hispanic districts in south Irving could easily elect a Hispanic candidate. Irving’s population is 41.7 percent Hispanic, according to a 2006 American Community Survey.
But under the current system, only one Hispanic candidate has ever won a city council seat, and none of the city council members is Hispanic.
In his 2007 lawsuit against Irving and its city council members, Hispanic resident Manuel Benavidez said the city’s election process violated the Voting Rights Act, which bars racial discrimination against voters.
U.S. District Judge Jorge A. Solis ruled that Benavides’ claims satisfied the three-pronged test in Thornburg v. Gingles by showing that the minority group formed a majority in a single district, that it typically voted the same way, and that the majority group “votes sufficiently as a bloc to enable it … usually to defeat the minority group’s preferred candidate.”
Solis also considered the “totality of circumstances” to find that Hispanics were more disenfranchised than other voters. These circumstances included racially polarized voting trends, lower Hispanic voter turnout, educational gaps and socioeconomic disparity.
Solis noted that the Hispanic candidate always received more than 63 percent of the Hispanic vote, but less than 31 percent of the non-Hispanic vote. The 2000 Census showed that 57 percent of Hispanics in Irving lacked high-school diplomas, compared to 11.1 percent of whites. Median household income was about $35,000 for Hispanics and $50,000 for whites.
The judge also noted Irving’s election results, where the only Hispanic candidate to win a city council seat, James Dickens, did not have a Spanish last name and did not reveal his race until after he was elected.
Solis said these factors “weigh heavily against the ability of Hispanics to elect candidates of their own choosing.”
The judge declared the city in violation of the Voting Rights Act.