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Irving voting rights on trial; Hispanics seeking better representation
Tue. Feb 17, 2009 02:15 PM

Manuel Benavides, an Irving resident who lost two bids to the Irving school board, is suing Irving to force the city to adopt single-member districts to give Hispanics a better chance of winning seats on the City Council.

The city contends that 60 percent of Irving Hispanics who are old enough to vote aren't citizens and thus can't cast ballots.

Mayor Herbert Gears said he supports the city's current at-large system, in which he and the eight other City Council members are elected by residents citywide. Mayor Gears and eight council members are all white even though whites make up only about 35.6 percent of the city's population, while Hispanics make up 40.6 percent, according to a 2007 American Community Survey.

Some hispanics see the city's stance as hypocritical since many non-citizen hispanics own homes in Irving and pay property taxes that the city benefits from. Carlos Martinez, an Irving resident born in El Salvador, said, "I own property and pay my taxes on time each and every year, but I feel I don't have the basic right to be represented properly with the current system that's in place."

David Ely, a demographics expert, testified that he found six ways to draw a new council district with a Hispanic voting majority. He also added that socio-economic and educational disparities between Irving whites and Hispanics made successful council campaigns more difficult for Hispanics under the city's at-large voting system. "It's more difficult for [Hispanic] candidates from this community to obtain the vote," Ely said.


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