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Residents speak out against city’s at-large voting system during council meeting

POSTED: May 9, 2013 12:53 a.m.

Two Gainesville residents spoke against the city’s at-large voting system at Tuesday’s City Council meeting.

It’s part of a campaign by members of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials to change a voting system that it says violates the federal Voting Rights Act. Gainesville is scheduled to hold elections for two City Council seats and the position of mayor later this year, and the group has said it wants to make the voting system an election issue.

GALEO officials are holding another meeting in Gainesville on Tuesday. The group’s website said the Voting Rights Committee meeting will focus on several tasks, including signing up more volunteers to speak at City Council meetings, finding volunteers to head up efforts on community awareness and voter mobilization, and determining the next steps for the organization. 

Gainesville and GALEO have fought about the at-large system for about two years, and attorney Robert Brinson, who represents the city, has said the system fairly represents all residents. All city voters can choose a representative from each ward. 

GALEO officials have released data analysis from Matt Barreto, director of the Washington Institute for the Study of Ethnicity and Race in the state of Washington, that they say shows Gainesville meets the criteria for having an illegal voting system, including historical discrimination, racially polarized elections and practices, and procedures that increase the opportunity for discrimination. 

GALEO Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez has asked the city to release findings it has said it has, but Brinson has refused, saying it’s attorney work product. 

Cale Hatch asked council members if they reached a point where they could say they agree with the data.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said he had no statement to make. 

“I’m sure the attorneys will talk with each other, but because it’s potential litigation, then the attorneys more than likely will discuss it and let us know when it’s time to move forward,” Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras said. 

GALEO attorney Keegan Federal Jr. said he has had no communication with Brinson. Federal said he was waiting to receive the information from the city. Brinson has said that the city would release its data after GALEO released its data. Brinson later characterized the city’s “findings” as informal comments.

Resident Charles Alvarez said he didn’t understand why Gainesville still had at-large voting and said he wanted to know why a ward can’t choose its own representative.

“It’s worked so well,” Dunagan said. “We’re representing all the citizens of Gainesville, not just one ward. It’s just our feeling.”

Dunagan said if there’s a change, the city residents should vote on it.

“It should be what’s the will of the citizens and that’s something we may look at in the future,” he said.

The voting rights meeting is scheduled for 6-7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Cielos Abiertos (Open Heavens) Church, at 1216 Aviation Blvd., Suite 107-112, Gainesville.


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