Irving Independent School District is playing games with 2010 census numbers that should handily introduce a Hispanic voice into the all-white school board, a failed Latino school-board candidate claims in federal court.
Manuel Benavidez, a retired American Airlines employee, who made unsuccessful runs for the school board in 2000 and 2005, says the district may be violating the federal Voting Rights Act. His electoral losses, he claims, had more to do with Irving ISD's at-large districts than his unpopularity as a candidate. When he first filed suit against the district back in 2008, Irving ISD's school-board members all could have conceivably lived on the same street. This, he argued, was not equal representation in a city with a burgeoning Hispanic population.
The judge didn't see things his way in 2011, but added that the release of the 2010 census could change the electoral map. "The 2010 Census may confirm Benavidez's contention that a majority Latino (Citizen Voting Age Population) district can be drawn," the judge wrote. And, in fact, it did -- or it should have, the complaint says. Latinos made up 71 percent of the student population. Voting-age, Latino citizens grew to nearly 36 percent of the population. Concentrated primarily in the southern part of the city, Latinos could easily elect their own school-board member, he claims.
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This is simply the latest salvo against citywide elections and at-large districts by the pro-bono Bickel & Brewer Storefront firm, which represents Benavidez. It won a court victory last August, forcing Farmers Branch to institute single-member City Council districts with one Latino-majority district. Before that, the firm, representing Benavidez, prevailed at a similar trial that found Irving's at-large council districts violated federal voting laws.
Benavidez now claims Irving ISD used a gerrymandered sleight of hand to guarantee no Hispanic would win election. To be sure, in response to the stark shift in voter demographics heralded by the census, the district drew new single-member districts, one of which, they claimed, was Latino majority.
But Benavidez argues the school board ignored the citizen voting age population numbers the judge counseled in his 2011 written opinion, and instead used voting age population to redraw districts that held many undocumented immigrants and could not, as a result, yield a Latino-majority vote.
"The trustees devised a plan intentionally based on the wrong voting population data to ensure Latino-backed candidates could not garner enough votes within any given voting district to defeat candidates supported by any bloc of Anglo voters," the lawsuit reads.