Gainesville City Council Statement on At-Large Voting

Gainesville City Council
Statement on At-Large Voting
 
The Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) has alleged that the City’s at-large voting system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by diluting the Latino vote.  The City takes this challenge seriously.
 
To insinuate that the City discriminates against anyone, or as stated in The Times that the City, “has an ugly history of discrimination” is hurtful and simply wrong.  Our City has a reputation for being culturally inclusive – where we celebrate what makes us different and recognize what makes us the same.  We are “One Community.”  We work together, play together and attend school together.
 
In previous litigation, United States District Court Judge William O’Kelley found that the City of Gainesville’s at-large system was not maintained for discriminatory purposes and no evidence of racial bias in the voting community was shown.  In his Order in the Johnson v. Hamrick case, he found that the overall evidence did not show racially polarized voting; that the city council members are not racists; that the city council members are responsive and that many of them had been supported by minorities; and that the court was convinced that members of the city council sincerely believe that the at-large election system is the best system for Gainesville.
 
We recognize and appreciate the contributions that the Latino community has made to Gainesville so we think it’s important to further clarify why we believe the at-large voting system provides fair and equitable representation for all the City’s citizens.
 
We believe in the at-large voting system, not because “it is what we have always done,” but we believe in the system because we feel it is right for Gainesville.  The at-large voting system requires that every member of the City Council is accountable to every single citizen in Gainesville.  Instead of posturing for what is best for “our district” we work together for what is best for the City of Gainesville.  We believe that the voter should have a voice in choosing all five candidates at the polls, not just one. 
 
In fact, our at-large voting system has already undergone review by the courts and twice by the Department of Justice in its review of the City’s new Charter and the City’s new ward map. The Department of Justice did not impose any objections to changes nor to our existing system.
 
Moreover, the courts have recognized that the principal benefit of the at-large system was “the fact that in such a system every citizen of the city is a constituent of each council member.  Because every citizen can vote for every member there is far less {narrow-mindedness} that in a single member district system in which there is a tendency for representatives to cater to the interest of their particular district at the expense of others.”
 
We have spent significant time considering GALEO’s allegations and we strongly disagree with its claims.  To establish a violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, among the many things that must be proven, is that the citizen voting age population of the minority group is sufficiently large and geographically compact to constitute a majority in a single-member district.  The City believes that, regardless of how much gerrymandering might be done, it is not mathematically possible to draw a district where 50% of the citizen voting age population of the district is Latino.  We have repeatedly asked GALEO to provide any information they have to prove otherwise.  To date, that information has not been forthcoming, and in lieu of data, we have repeatedly faced only unsupported assertions.
 
We want the citizens of Gainesville to understand our position.  We are not turning a deaf ear to anyone’s concerns.  We believe that representation of all people is government’s primary responsibility and we take that responsibility seriously.  However, to overhaul our working electoral process based on the arguments of a few and without any evidence to support a change is not the right thing for Gainesville.