FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLORADO
Case No. 01-MK-2275 (BNB)
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
ALAMOSA COUNTY, COLORADO;
ALAMOSA COUNTY BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS;
CHARLOTTE BOBICKI; AND
HOLLY A. LOWDER,
Defendants.MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
THIS MATTER is before the Court following a nine-day bench trial. At trial, the Plaintiff, the United States of America, was represented by Thomas Reed, Tricia Jefferson, and Edward Keefe from the United States Department of Justice. The Defendants, Alamosa County, the Alamosa County Board of Commissioners, Robert Zimmerman, Darius Allen, Charlotte Bobicki and Holly Z. Lowder, were represented at trial by J. Scott Detamore and Joseph Becker of the Mountain States Legal Foundation. Having considered the evidence presented and the arguments of counsel, the Court makes the following findings of fact and conclusions of law.I. JURISDICTION
The Court has subject matter jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ï½§ 1331.II. ISSUES PRESENTED
The United State of America ("the Government") brought this action against Alamosa County, the Alamosa County Board of Commissioners, its members, and the Alamosa County Clerk (collectively referred to as "the Defendants"). The Government seeks a determination that the at-large method for electing county commissioners in Alamosa County violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. ï½§ï½§ 1973 and 1973j(d), and therefore should be set aside. The government claims that this election method diminishes the ability of Alamosa County's Hispanic residents to participate in the electoral process and elect representatives of their choice, thus resulting in impermissible vote dilution. The Defendants respond that either Section 2 is unconstitutional or the at-large method of electing county commissioers does not violate Section 2.III. FINDINGS OF FACT A. The Process for Electing Counthy Commissioners
Alamosa County is one of 62 counties in the State of Colorado. Like all counties in Colorado, its Board of County Commissioners ("the Board") governs and administers county affairs. The current method of electing commissioners to the Board is the same as in other Colorado counties and has been in place since 1913, when Alamosa County was formed. The process is specified by state statute. ï½§ 30-10-306, C.R.S., which requires that every county be divided into compact residency districts nearly equal in population. Members of the Board serve four-year, staggered terms.
Candidates for county commissioner are first nominated either by petition or through the caucus process, then selected in a partisan primary election. In the general election, candidates for each residency district are elected at-large.
Based on its population, Alamosa County has three resdiency districts, and accordingly, the board consists of three members, each of whom qualifies to run from one of the three districts. The benefit of electing county commissioners at-large, particularly in a rural-urban county such as Alamosa, is that every commissioner is accountable to residents of the entire county rather than solely to neighbors in his or her residency district.
Currently, there is no residency district in Alamosa County in which Hispanic residents constitute a majority of the voting age population or of registered voters. However, the parties agree that a district in which Hispanic residents comprise at least 60% of the voting age population could be drawn.B. Alamosa County Geography, History, and Demography
Located in south central Colorado, Alamosa County is cone of six counties in the San Luis Valley. The largest part of the county is rural with farmin and ranching as major industries. The county has one urban center, the City of Alamosa, where most businesses, government offices and Adams State College are located.
Persons of Hispanic and Anglo descent have resided in the county for more than a century. Indeed, over 70% of Alamosa Coumty's current Hispanic residents were born in Colorado. Many Hispanic and Anglo families have lived in either Alamosa County or elsewhere in the San Luis Valley for numberous generations, intermarrying at a higher rate than the national average.
According to the 2000 Census, the total population of Alamosa County was 14,966. Of this population, 54% (8,089) self-identified as White (but not Latino or Hispanic), 41.1% (6,197) self-identified as Hispanic, and 4.5% (680) self-identified as Black or African-American, American Indiana, Alasak Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, or other designation. Of the voting age population (age 18 and older), these groups represent 57.9%, 37.6% and 4.4%, respectively. By comparing the total percentage of the population to the percentage of the voting