It did not take that long for Latino political officials to address the latest Republican stunt to disenfranchise voters of the minority community. Councilmember James Rodriguez of District I and Councilmember Edward Gonzalez of District H filed suit against Harris County.
Councilmember Gonzalez stated, “The proposed map cracks communities of interests and dilutes the voting strength of Latinos in Precinct 2. Despite the fact that Latinos drove the overwhelming growth of the population since the last census and now constitute over 40% of the population in Harris County, Latinos are poised to lose the only seat on Commissioners Court where they have an opportunity to elect a representative of their choice.”
The contention at hand it seems is the aggregation of the small suburban yet heavily conservative community of Kingwood into Precinct Two (2) of the Harris County redistricting map. Gonzalez adds, “Alternate maps have been drawn by members of the community that show that it is possible to increase the population and voting strength of Latinos in Precinct 2 without adversely impacting neighboring Precincts from electing a representative of their choice.”
Kuff makes an astute observation of a previous lawsuit mentioned in the complaint. He notes, “I am greatly intrigued by the reference to the 2008 lawsuit against Harris County and then-Tax Assessor Paul Bettencourt, which alleged that thousands of voter registration forms were illegally rejected. I’m glad to see this get litigated again, because by all reports I’ve heard the underlying problems have continued.”
Kuff is referring to Page Nine (9) Line Forty-Four (44) of the complaint where it states, “On November 10, 2008, other Plaintiffs filed sued [sic] against Harris County for systematic and extensive violations of federal and state law as it relates to voter registration.”
Remember that lawsuit? Yeah, the one that was settled out of court … where Harris County claimed that they were finally getting their act together. Although the plaintiffs are not asserting that Harris County has failed to adhere to the terms of that settlement, they are alleging that the “county’s voter registration practices are designed with the purpose and/or effect to discourage Latino voters from having effective political participation.”
There are a total of four counts which allege violations of constitutional rights. At a cursory level:
Count One alleges that the “Precinct Plan violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973” because “under the totality of the circumstances, Plaintiffs and minority voters are denied an equal opportunity to participate effectively in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice to the Commissioners’ Court.” Translation: The Harris County Precinct Plan will discriminate against Latinos because they will not be able to elect a Latino to the Commissioners’ Court.
Count Two alleges that the “Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because it intentionally discriminates against Latino persons by denying Plaintiffs and Latino voters an equal opportunity to participate in the political process, to elect candidates of their choice to the Commissioners’ Court, and to have any meaningful or significant influence in elections for Members of the Commissioners’ Court.” Translation: See Count One’s translation.
Count Three alleges that the “Plan violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution because its districts are racial gerrymanders, drawn with excessive and unjustified use of race and racial data.” Translation: The districts have been drawn to discriminate against racial minorities.
Finally, Count Four alleges that “Plan cannot be administered because it has not been precleared pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973c.” Translation: The proper federal agency has not approved of the Plan as required by the federal statute cited.
It will be interesting to see how this turns out. If the allegations are proven true then Harris County is going to get slapped with a mighty nasty fine. Read the original complaint in its entirety below.