The civil rights group Latino Justice has filed suit against Orange County leaders, arguing that elected officials drew new political districts that are "discriminatory" and violate "the civil rights of Latinos by diluting their voting strength."
Citing the 1965 Voting Rights Act, the lawsuit asks a federal judge to prevent officials from holding any county elections under its current redistricting plan.
"Plaintiffs seek the creation of a county commission redistricting plan that will not cancel out, minimize or dilute the voting strength of Latino voters in Orange County," the suit says on behalf of four Orlando Hispanic voters named in it. "Plaintiffs further seek costs and attorney's fees."
"Thankfully the Court has the power to correct this injustice if the county insists on using discriminatory district lines, which ignore the explosive growth of Orange County's Latino community," said Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of Latino Justice's Puerto Rican Legal and Education Defense Fund. "We have the evidence to prove that these lines fail to afford the Latino community an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice."
County officials could not be immediately reached for comment.
Even though the Hispanic population grew by 83 percent overall in Orange County over the past decade, it's historically Latino-held District 3 Commission seat was drawn in way that reduced the Hispanic population from 45 percent to 41 percent, the group argued.
County officials who approved the final plan have argued that smaller percentages of Hispanics have elected Latinos to the seat for the past two decades, and that countywide, Orange voters elected Cuban-American Mel Martinez as mayor.
But in its lawsuit, Latino Justice argues that despite the Hispanic population nearly doubling between the 2000 and 2010 Census -- from 168,361 to 308,244 -- commissioners approved a redistricting plan that actually reduced the concentration of Latino voters in District 3, despite citizens offering a plan that would have put it to closer to 50 percent of the voting-age population.
The District 6 seat now held by African-American Tiffany Moore Russell had a 56 percent black voting-age population in 2001. Commissioners approved new borders that lowered the concentration there to 52 percent. Hispanic, Democratic and black activists lobbied last year for similar percentages for Latinos in District 3.
"We know a plan with a Latino-majority district can be created because we worked with several community leaders and groups to produce one, which the commission sadly chose to ignore," Cartagena said in a statement.
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