A federal judge has ordered the city of Irving, Texas, to switch to single-member City Council districts because their current at-large system was in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis issued the ruling Tuesday in response to a federal suit filed by Irving resident Manuel Benavidez, who claimed that the city’s at-large voting system essentially blocks the votes of Hispanics and violates the federal Voting Rights Act.
Solis ordered both sides to try to agree on a plan for elections and redistricting and a schedule for implementing that plan, and to submit either joint or proposed plans to the court within 90 days. If the parties fail to come up with an acceptable plan, Solis said that he would draw his own redistricting plan.
“This victory gives the Latino community in Irving a voice in the political process and the opportunity for representation,” said William A. Brewer III, partner at the Bickel & Brewer Storefront, who represented Benavidez. “We hope this result effects a positive contribution to the way in which certain municipalities approach a changing world.”
In his ruling, Solis noted numerous factors in Irving’s voting system that, “…weigh heavily against the ability of Hispanics to elect candidates of their own choosing; accordingly, the totality of the circumstances indicates the Defendant’s method of electing the mayor and members of its City Council violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.”
Single-member districts have been a contentious issue in Irving on and off for decades. In February, a charter review committee recommended creating some sort of single-member district system. A petition also is circulating to let voters decide whether there should be a mixed system of single-member and at-large council seats.
Hispanics make up the largest single racial or ethnic group in Irving. But creating a new City Council district where a majority of voters are Hispanic is virtually impossible, city attorneys argued in federal court filings.
Their reasoning: About 60 percent of Irving Hispanics who are old enough to vote aren’t citizens and thus can’t cast ballots.
Irving’s mayor and eight council members are all white even though whites make up only about 35.6 percent of the city’s population, according to 2007 American Community Survey estimates. Hispanics make up 40.6 percent of the population, according to the same estimate.
Benavidez’ attorneys said Irving’s Hispanic voters have overwhelmingly cast their ballots for Hispanic candidates in recent council elections. And they argued that none of those candidates won because non-Hispanic voters, who typically cast more than 90 percent of ballots in the elections, overwhelmingly supported Hispanic candidates’ opponents.
Good for Benavidez and the residents of Irving. As Greg notes, it’s not exactly clear why the plaintiffs in Irving won but the ones in Farmers Branch lost, though they are appealing and could get a boost from this ruling. Be that as it may, Irving is another one of those places that has gone on anti-immigrant binges, and as far as I’m concerned anything that makes places like that a little more representative of its population is a step in the right direction.