WASHINGTON – The Justice Department announced today that it has settled a Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the Osceola County, Fla., School Board. The Justice Department simultaneously filed a complaint and consent decree today settling the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando.
The Department’s lawsuit alleges that the district boundaries for electing school board members violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Specifically, the Department alleges that the existing districts will result in Hispanic citizens having less opportunity than other citizens to participate in the electoral process and to elect candidates of their choice to office. While Hispanic citizens comprise approximately 40 percent of the population of Osceola County, the county has never elected a Hispanic candidate to the five-member school board. Under the current district boundaries, no district has a Hispanic eligible voter majority.
The consent decree, if approved by the federal court, provides for new district lines in which Hispanics are a majority of the registered voters in one district.
“The Voting Rights Act guarantees that all citizens have the right to fully participate in the democratic process,” said Grace Chung Becker, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “We are very pleased that the Osceola School Board has agreed to adopt a districting plan that provides Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidate of choice.” Today’s settlement follows a 2006 ruling against Osceola County that at-large elections for electing its Board of County Commissioners violated Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. The federal district court in Orlando held that the at-large election system diluted Hispanic voting strength, and ordered elections to be held, beginning with a special election in 2007, under a remedial plan of five single-member districts.
Last November, the school board voted to conduct a referendum election on whether to change from at-large elections to a single-member district system, and in January county voters approved a change to single-member districts. However, under Florida law, the Osceola School Board is prohibited from revising its election districts in even-numbered years, and therefore, without this consent decree, the 2008 elections would proceed under a district plan that denies Hispanic citizens the equal voting opportunities guaranteed by the Voting Rights Act.
Under the terms of the consent decree, in 2008, the school board will hold elections in Districts 2 and 3. In 2010, the board will hold elections in Districts 1, 4, and 5.
Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Justice Department at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice website at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting.