Unconstitutional System Dilutes Latino Voting Strength and Violates Voting Rights Act

HOUSTON, TX - Today, MALDEF filed suit against the City of Pasadena, Texas, challenging the city's new voting system, which was adopted last November in a close election. The measure eliminated two of Pasadena’s eight single-member voting districts and replaced them with two at-large seats. The lawsuit, filed by Latino voters in Pasadena, argues that the new system is unconstitutional and violates the federal Voting Rights Act by diluting Latino voting strength.

The new hybrid election system would almost certainly have been blocked under the federal Voting Rights Act prior to the June 2013 United States Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which removed the requirement that voting changes in Texas be precleared by the federal government. Last year, MALDEF warned Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell that his proposal to eliminate single member districts would have a discriminatory impact on Latino voters. That letter is available here.

“There is no better example of the harm wrought by the Supreme Court majority in Shelby County than the Pasadena Mayor’s cynical decision to change the city’s election system in the immediate aftermath of the Court decision last year,” stated Thomas A. Saenz, MALDEF President and General Counsel. “The sole reason for the change was to stem the growing political power of the Latino community.”

The Latino population of Pasadena has seen tremendous growth over the past decade. As of 2012, Latinos represented over 40 percent of the city’s citizen voting age population, a level that would have provided Latinos significant influence over a substantial number of City Council districts in the previous eight single-member district system. Conversely, the current system will substantially reduce the ability of Latinos to elect candidates of their choice by reducing the number of Latino-majority districts to three of eight.

“Instead of welcoming Latinos into the city electorate, Pasadena responded by changing its election system to dilute Latino voting strength,” stated Nina Perales, MALDEF Vice President of Litigation and lead counsel in the case. “The new system violates Latino voting rights, and we look forward to securing a court order restoring fairness to city elections,” continued Perales.

The U.S. Department of Justice has blocked similar Texas proposals in the past, such as in Jefferson County, Texas, where a school district attempted to reduce the number of single-member districts from seven to five, and to create two at-large positions.

MALDEF’s lawsuit against Pasadena was filed in federal district court in Houston, Texas. The complaint in the action is available here.

Founded in 1968, MALDEF is the nation's leading Latino legal civil rights organization. Often described as the "Latino Legal Voice for Civil Rights in America" MALDEF promotes social change through advocacy, communications, community education, and litigation in the areas of education, employment, immigrant rights, and political access. For more information on MALDEF, please visit:

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