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IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
v. CIVIL ACTION NO. 6:08-CV-582-ORL-18DAB
THE SCHOOL BOARD OF
OSCEOLA COUNTY, FLORIDA;
and CONNIE CLICK, Supervisor
The United States of America, Plaintiff herein, alleges:
1. The Attorney General files this action pursuant to Sections 2 and 12(d) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 1973, 1973j(d).
2. The Court has jurisdiction of this action pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1345 and 42 U.S.C. 1973j(f).
3. Defendant the School Board of Osceola County, Florida is a political subdivision of the State of Florida, organized pursuant to the laws of Florida.
4. Defendant Connie Click is the Supervisor of Elections of Osceola County. The Supervisor of Elections has responsibilities concerning the administration of voter registration and the conduct of school board elections in Osceola County. Defendant Click is a resident of Osceola County, Florida, and is sued in her official capacity.
5. The School Board of Osceola County, Florida (hereafter "School Board"; or "Board") is the body established under the laws of the State of Florida that is responsible for the governance and administration of the School District of Osceola County, Florida. Jay Wheeler, Thomas Chalifoux, David Stone, Thomas Greer and John McKay currently serve as members of the School Board.
6. Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended, 42 U.S.C. 1973 ("Section 2"), prohibits the enforcement of any voting qualification or prerequisite to voting or any standard, practice or procedure that has either the purpose or the result of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a language minority group.
7. According to the 2000 Census, Osceola County has a total population of 172,493 persons, of whom 102,792 (59.6%) are non-Hispanic white persons, 50,727 (29.4%) are Hispanic persons, and 11,075 (6.4%) are black persons; and a total voting-age population of 126,279 persons, of whom 79,150 (62.7%) are non-Hispanic white persons, 34,267 (27.1%) are Hispanic persons, and 7,392 (5.6%) are black persons. The boundaries of Osceola County and the Osceola County School District are coterminous.
8. There has been substantial and continuing growth in the Hispanic population. The 2006 American Community Survey of the Bureau of the Census for Osceola County reflects a total population of 244,045 persons, of whom 115,184 are non-Hispanic white persons (47.2%), 97,361 are Hispanic persons (39.9%), and 21,271 are black persons (8.7%). The total voting-age population is 182,237, of whom 90,169 are non-Hispanic white persons (49.5%), 68,663 are Hispanic persons (37.7%) and 17,032 are black persons (9.3%).
9. From 1997 through the most recent election in 2006, the five members of the School Board have been elected on an at-large basis from numbered positions to four-year, staggered terms. If no candidate receives a majority of the vote in the initial election, there is a run-off election between the top two candidates.
10. In 2006, the United States prevailed in a Section 2 vote dilution suit against Osceola County challenging the at-large system for electing its Board of County Commissioners. The court ruled that the use of the at large system for electing commissioners in Osceola County diluted Hispanic voting strength in violation of Section 2, and ordered elections to be held, beginning with a special election in 2007, under a remedial plan of five single-member districts. The districting plan approved by the federal district court included a district with a Hispanic citizen voting age population and Hispanic voter registration majority. See United States v. Osceola County, Florida, 475 F.Supp.2d 1220 (M.D. Fla. 2006); United States v. Osceola County, Florida, 474 F.Supp.2d 1254 (M.D. Fla. 2006).
11. Following the federal court's decision in United States v. Osceola County, the School Board voted to conduct a referendum election on whether to change to a single-member district method of election. On January 29, 2008, the voters of Osceola County approved a change in the method of electing members of the School Board from at-large to single-member districts.
12. The Hispanic population of the county is sufficiently numerous and geographically compact that a properly apportioned single-member district plan for electing the School Board can be drawn in which Hispanic persons would constitute a majority of the citizen voting-age population in one out of five districts.
13. Under the School Board's existing district plan, the predominantly Hispanic area of Buenaventura Lakes is unnecessarily divided between two districts, and Hispanic persons do not constitute a majority of the citizen voting-age population or of the registered voters in any of the five districts.
14. Hispanic voters in Osceola County are politically cohesive. Racially polarized voting patterns prevail in elections for the School Board and in other elections held in the county, and non-Hispanic voters have voted sufficiently as a bloc to enable them usually to defeat Hispanic voters' preferred candidates, particularly when those Hispanic-preferred candidates are Hispanic.
15. No Hispanic candidate has ever been elected to the School Board.
16. Many Hispanic persons in Osceola County have suffered the effects of official discrimination, including a recent and pervasive history of discrimination and neglect in voting-related activities.
17. In conducting elections in Osceola County, Defendants have failed to ensure that all Hispanic citizens with limited-English proficiency have an opportunity to participate effectively in the voting process.
18. The effects of discrimination on Hispanic citizens in Osceola County, including their markedly lower socioeconomic conditions relative to white citizens, continue to hinder the ability of Hispanic citizens to participate effectively in the political process in county elections.
19. Political campaigns in Osceola County have been characterized by racial appeals.
20. Implemented in the totality of circumstances described in paragraphs 7 to 20, the current single-member districts for electing members of the School Board will dilute Hispanic voting strength, resulting in Hispanic citizens of the county having less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and to elect representatives of their choice, in violation of Section 2.
21. Unless enjoined by order of this Court, Defendants will continue to conduct elections for the School Board using the current district boundaries, in violation of Section 2.
WHEREFORE, the United States of America prays that this Court enter an order:
(1) Declaring that the School Board's current district boundaries violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973;
(2) Enjoining the Defendants, their agents and successors in office, and all persons acting in concert with them, from administering, implementing, or conducting any future elections for the School Board under the current district boundaries; and
(3) Ordering the Defendants to devise and schedule the prompt implementation of a single-member district plan for the School Board that complies with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973.
Plaintiff further prays that this Court order such additional relief as the interests of justice may require, together with the costs and disbursements in maintaining this action.
MICHAEL B. MUKASEY
GRACE CHUNG BECKER
Acting Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division
ROBERT E. O'NEILL
United States Attorney
Florida Bar No. 105155
Acting Chief, Voting Section
REBECCA J. WERTZ
TIMOTHY F. MELLETT
Attorneys, Voting Section
U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
Voting Section, 1800G
950 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20530
(202) 307-6262 >