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Photo of a get out to vote effort from Jolt, a nonprofit that tries to get Latinos to vote in Houston.
Photo of a get out to vote effort from Jolt, a nonprofit that tries to get Latinos to vote in Houston. Photo: Mark Felix/AFP via Getty Images.

Houston sued by LULAC over violation of voting rights

LULAC alleges that their at-large districts are weakening Latinos voting power through the election process, a violation of the Voting Rights Act.

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On Monday, Dec. 5, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) — the country’s oldest Latino civil rights organization — filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Houston in the U.S. District Court in the Southern District of Texas. 

They accuse Texas’ most populous city and the nation’s fourth largest city of refusing Latinos adequate representation by allowing its voters to elect five councilmembers. 

“LULAC says basta after generations of Latinos have endured deliberate and systematic discrimination for years through the good-ol’ boy system of the past controlled by a few,” said Domingo Garcia, LULAC president in a statement. 

Houston’s sole Latina on the City Council is Karla Cisneros and the council oversees the city’s $5.7 billion budget, LULAC pointed out in the lawsuit. It added that in the city’s more than a hundred-year existence, they have only elected two Latinos through its at-large districts. This despite Latinos making up roughly half of the city’s population. 

“Latinos make up 44.5% of the city’s population, yet we have only one Latino out of 16 positions on the city council that controls a $5.7 billion annual budget,” said Garcia. “Our battle is against an outdated system that denies Latino taxpayers and their families their lawful participation deciding vital services, resources, jobs and investment this city makes.” 

They allege that Houston officials’ use of at-large districts is in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The lawsuit states that historically in the city, elections have been racially polarized and adds that Latino voting power has been watered down and weakened through the aforementioned process. 

“Houston is the only major city left in Texas that lacks 100% single member districts,” says Ivan Sanchez, one of five plaintiffs listed. “LULAC believes we need to bring the city of Houston up to date, and modernize it politically, like other major Texas communities.”

LULAC — who has listed themselves as a plaintiff — filed the suit on behalf of four voters from Houston — Cristina Acosta, Ivan Castillo, Anthony Rios and Sanchez. 

“Having just one Latino on the city council is an outcry,” said Sergio Lira, LULAC’s redistricting chair. “We need more equitable representation at a time when Latinos are building Houston with our labor, and our businesses are pumping in millions in tax dollars. Making this change is not a favor, rather a right we have earned. LULAC is here to claim that right and trusts that the federal court will agree.” 

Houston officials have yet to comment on the matter. 

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