Many Cities Use At-Large Voting to Keep Latinos from being Represented on City Councils

Monday, March 09, 2015
Grand Prarie, Texas City Council

One way to keep Hispanic voter power in check at the local level is to use at-large elections for city council, school board and other races, which often result in majority white communities dominating municipal government.


With at-large elections, every resident votes for all city council candidates. This is in contrast district-based elections that create more tailored representation for ethnic neighborhoods.


Some cities still using at-large voting are being challenged in court, and are losing their legal fights.


In Yakima, Washington, which is one-third Latino, officials will have to create voting districts for city council elections. The change is expected to finally bring a Latino to office after nearly 40 years. The switch was forced after a federal court ruled the at-large system was discriminatory and violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.


Santa Barbara, California is also drawing six new districts with citizen input to ensure that the Hispanic population is fairly represented, according to ThinkProgress. Latinos comprise 38% of the population of the city, which has had only one Hispanic council member in the past decade. Santa Barbara had been ruled to be in violation of California’s Voting Rights Act.


Still another legal challenge is underway in Texas, where the city of Grand Prairie has been accused of violating the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and denying fair representation to Hispanic voters, the Dallas Morning News reported.


Currently, all of the city’s council members are white, despite the population being nearly 43% Hispanic.

-Noel Brinkerhoff


To Learn More:

Cities Are Quietly Reviving A Jim Crow-Era Trick To Suppress Latino Votes (by Kira Lerner, Think Progress)

Grand Prairie Sued over Council Election System (by Ray Leszcynski, Dallas Morning News)

ACLU Seeks $2.8 Million in Legal Costs from Yakima in Voting Rights Case (by Mike Faulk, Yakima Herald-Republic)


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