DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – More than 100 Hispanic activists took to City Hall Wednesday, upset with a proposed council redistricting plan that they say will dilute their voting power.
Outside the council chamber – and occasionally even inside it – demonstrators chanted “5-4-5,” meaning they want a plan with five “safe” seats where Hispanics can be elected, four for whites, and five for blacks.
“We deserve five seats at the table,” said Sylvia Lagos, one of the protesters. “We redistrict every 10 years, and this is our time.”
Fellow protestor Bea Martinez echoed her sentiment, saying, “We have to teach the mayor, we have to teach the city council how to count to five; the number for Latinos is five.”
But the plan the council approved has four winnable Hispanic districts, four black and six white, activists say.
In speaking directly to councilmembers during an open microphone session, protesters said that given overall Hispanic population trends, it’s not enough.
Among them was Martina Alvarado, who told them, “The recently-approved map fragments the Latino population and it presents an obstacle for fair representation of Latinos.”
The group is threatening to sue. But former councilwoman Sandra Crenshaw – who says she attended and spoke at each redistricting meeting – claims the group is missing an important point: The law says lines aren’t drawn on total population, but on actual voters.
“The voting age population includes non-citizens, and non-citizens are not allowed to vote. The Voting Rights Act protects voters,” she said.
Mayor Mike Rawlings defends the council’s plan, saying it gives minorities a chance to make some historic gains.
“We have eight winnable minority districts for the city of Dallas. Never have we been able to do that.” He adds, “I think it’s a wonderful thing that the city of Dallas can bring in our minority communities and say, ‘You know what? It’s time for you to have eight of the 14 seats of this city council.’”
Rawlings says the city’s plan will be submitted to the Justice Department for review next week.
Texas is one of nine states required to get what’s called “pre-clearance” on its voting boundaries from the U.S Department of Justice as part of the Civil Rights Act of 1965.