- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 17, 2017

PASADENA, Texas (AP) - A judge says the election system for a Houston suburb that implemented a voting plan meant to dilute Latino power at the polls will be under federal oversight for the next six years.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal issued an order Monday saying that Pasadena must receive approval from the U.S. attorney general or the court before altering its election system until June 30, 2023, to ensure “the city cannot immediately return to a map and plan that thwarts Latinos on the cusp of an electoral majority,” the Houston Chronicle reported (https://bit.ly/2jtHZf2 ).

Rosenthal’s ruling follows her decision earlier this month that the city intentionally violated the voting rights of its burgeoning Hispanic and Latino population in a redistricting scheme pushed through three years ago by longtime Mayor Johnny Isbell.

The redistricting came after a far-reaching U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2013 removed federal oversight over local changes to election procedures in Texas and other states with a history of discriminatory practices.

A spokeswoman for Pasadena didn’t immediately return a call or email seeking comment Tuesday.

The Latino population in Pasadena has grown rapidly in recent decades - almost two-thirds of residents, up from less than one-third in 1990.

Rosenthal’s order came two days before registration begins for candidates in Pasadena’s May city elections.

Attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of Latino voters, said the decision would ensure oversight of any changes to electoral maps or procedures brought on by the 2020 U.S. Census.

The new election system in Pasadena was adopted in 2014 and replaced eight single-member districts with six single-member and two at-large districts that Rosenthal said did not give Latino residents a chance to elect candidates of their choice.

She reiterated Monday that the city must use the older, eight single-member district map drawn in 2011 for the May elections to give Latino residents “an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.”

Attorneys for the city argued that the changes to the election system did not negatively impact the Hispanic vote. In a court filing Friday, the city indicated it “strongly disagrees” with Rosenthal’s findings of voting rights violations.

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Information from: Houston Chronicle, https://www.houstonchronicle.com

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