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LULAC files lawsuit claiming Houston City Council's at-large seats create disparity

The organization claims the city of Houston is the only major city in Texas with at-large council seats.

HOUSTON — The League of United Latin American Citizens, or LULAC, filed a federal lawsuit against the City of Houston Monday. 

The organization claims the City of Houston is the only major city in Texas with at-large council seats.

LULAC National President Domingo Garcia claims the city is violating the civil rights of Latinos in the state's largest city. Domingo said Latinos are under-represented on the 16-member city council. 

The city has 11 single-member districts and five at-large council members.

According to LULAC, the city's 45% Latino population is not represented on the current council. Garcia said the at-large seats deny Latinos a fair shot at increasing representation on the municipal policy-making body. The goal of LULAC is an all-single-member Houston City Council like San Antonio, Dallas, Ft. Worth, San Antonio, Austin and El Paso.

In the lawsuit, LULAC is asking the court to discontinue at-large elections for five members of the council who run citywide. 

Garcia said at-large seats "discriminates and disenfranchises every average Houston homeowner whether they are Latino or not."

"We're working on this because of the lack of representation at city hall," Garcia added.  

Four Houston plaintiffs are named in the lawsuit, including Ivan Sanchez. He's a LULAC redistricting task board member. 

"We are not claiming just to give us a piece of the pie. It's because when all of us are truly represented, the entire city of Houston is going to benefit, truly," Sanchez said. 

LULAC claims the at-large seats deny not only Latinos but other minorities a fair shot at increasing representation.

Pervez Agwan is in favor of the lawsuit. He is a political organizer in the Asian American community.

"I, as a representative, not just of the Muslim population but of the Asian American community, wish to abolish at-large districts,"  Agwan said. We need to move forward, not just for the Latino community but for the Asian Americans in the city to have representation."

The next steps for LULAC include gathering 20,000 signatures to have all single-member districts placed on next year's November ballot. 

The City of Houston released the following statement regarding the lawsuit filed by LULAC: 

"The city believes its system of 11 single-member districts with five at-large districts has benefitted its residents. At-large council members are engaged in and advocate for district issues. The city held numerous hearings regarding redistricting and solicited alternative plans. Its goal included providing an equal opportunity for all voters to elect candidates of their choice, preserve communities of interest, and avoid diluting the voting strength of any group of voters. The city expects that evidence presented in this lawsuit will support its adopted plan which is consistent with the city charter."

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