FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE |
MONDAY, JULY 18, 2005
TDD (202) 514-1888
JUSTICE DEPARTMENT FILES VOTING RIGHTS SUIT
AGAINST OSCEOLA COUNTY, FLORIDA
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Justice Department announced today that it has filed suit against Osceola County, Florida alleging that the county’s method of electing its governing body violates section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida in Orlando. The complaint contends that the at-large method used to elect the Board of Commissioners in Osceola County dilutes the voting strength of the county’s Hispanic citizens in violation of the Act.
“The Voting Rights Act guarantees that all citizens have the right to fully participate in the democratic process,” said Bradley J. Schlozman, Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights. “We believe today’s lawsuit will help bring down those barriers currently in place that impede Osceola County’s Hispanic citizens from electing representatives of their choice to county government.”
Paul I. Perez, the United States Attorney for the Middle District of Florida added, “This office joins the Civil Rights Division in bringing this civil enforcement action which is aimed at righting a wrong. We shall make sure that the rights of minority voters in Osceola County are protected.”
Today’s lawsuit is the result of an extensive investigation conducted by the Civil Rights Division into the county’s electoral practices and history. The complaint alleges that the at-large system for electing the Board of Commissioners not only dilutes Hispanic voting strength, but that it was adopted with a discriminatory purpose. The Justice Department found that while Hispanic voters in Osceola County are politically cohesive, white voters-who form a majority of the electorate-regularly vote as a bloc to defeat the Hispanic voters’ candidates of choice. This racial bloc voting, coupled with the use of an at-large election system and other factors present in Osceola County, dilutes the voting strength of Hispanics in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Today’s lawsuit seeks a change in the method of electing the Board of Commissioners and adoption of a plan that would afford Osceola County’s Hispanic voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice. The complaint alleges that because the Hispanic population in Osceola County is geographically concentrated, Hispanics could constitute a majority in one of five commission districts under a fairly drawn plan.