Yesterday, the City of Pasadena in southeast Harris County voted 5-4 to place a proposition on the November 2013 ballot that, if approved by voters, would change the city’s current 8 single member district system of electing members of the city council to a 6-2 system featuring two at large members.
State Sen. Sylvia Garcia, MALDEF, and the Houston Chronicle have all expressed concerns that the move would dilute the voting strength of the city’s rapidly growing Hispanic population.
In a prepared statement following yesterday’s vote, Garcia said:
Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell submitted a mid-decade redistricting change to the Pasadena City Charter that alters the city council from an eight single-member district council to a hybrid system with two at large seats and six-single member district seats. The change will significantly increase the population size of each council seat and depending on the map could drastically harm the ability of Latinos to elect their candidates of choice. The Pasadena City Council approved the city charter amendment on a 5-4 vote despite overwhelming public opposition in a late evening city council hearing on August 20, 2013.
"This decision by the Mayor and the majority of the Council is exactly the type of change the Voting Rights Act was intended to prevent. I am extremely disappointed that the Council approved this charter amendment despite the opposition by the citizen’s commission and the minority community," stated Senator Sylvia Garcia.
With the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the City of Pasadena will no longer need to obtain the pre-clearance of the Department of Justice, despite the fact that a similar election change was denied approval in December of 2012. The measure will likely be added to the November ballot for voter approval.
According to U.S. Department of Justice, since 1982 Texas has had the second highest number of Voting Rights Act Section 5 objections including at least 109 objections since 1982, 12 of which were for statewide voting changes. Texas leads the nation in several categories of voting discrimination, including recent Section 5 violations and Section 2 challenges.
To be sure, local politics can be tricky, with multiple dynamics often at play. But the latest moves are yet another example of how - and where - section 5’s absence may be felt most strongly - namely the local arena.
More to come.