Judge: Farmers Branch Voting System Robs Hispanics of Representation

A federal judge ruled Thursday that Farmers Branch's voting system is depriving the Latino population of representation on the City Council. City leaders have 60 days to address the violation of federal voting law.

Farmers Branch's ethnic history has been troubled over the last six years or so. The town has spent some $5 million in court defending a housing ordinance requiring renters to verify their lawful immigration status. Opponents of the ordinance, including a three-judge panel of a federal appeals court, say it targets Latinos, pointing to subsequent anti-Hispanic legislation and proposals from the town council.

U.S. District Judge Sidney Fitzwater considered the town's history of racially tinged politics in Thursday's order, including an English-only ordinance and the removal of Spanish-language channels from television at a local rec center. What's more, he noted that no Hispanic has ever been elected to the City Council. But it isn't as though they haven't tried. Hispanic candidates have run for seats every year between 2007 and 2011. Strong support from the Latino community could never overcome the overwhelmingly white voting bloc on the east side of town. That's because the Farmers Branch voting system works by sheer majority in an at-large place system, rather than through single-member districts.

It means the entire council could, theoretically, live on the same street. In fact, much of the council lives on the east side of town, near the Brookhaven Country Club and in the upscale Wooded Creek development. Expert testimony found that a series of hypothetical districts had an eligible voting population that was majority Hispanic.