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Friday February 12th, 2016 9:09AM

Gainesville Council refutes allegations of voting system bias

By B.J. Williams News Director
GAINESVILLE - As promised, the Gainesville City Council has issued a statement in response to allegations that the city's at-large voting system violates a portion of the Voting Rights Act, and therefore, discriminates against the Latino community.

That written response, delivered at Tuesday's regular city council meeting, strongly denied the allegations brought by the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) and emphasized that the at-large system of voting "is right for Gainesville."

Mayor Danny Dunagan read the two-page statement at the onset of the meeting; there was no comment by other council members.

Central to the city's position was previous litigation brought originally in 1996, claiming that the at-large method of voting was biased against minority populations in Gainesville. The statement pointed out that U.S. District Court Judge William C. O'Kelley wrote in his Order in the 1996 case that "the city of Gainesville's at-large system was not maintained for discriminatory purposes and no evidence of racial bias in the voting community was shown."

O'Kelley's ruling was upheld in the courts and by the Department of Justice.

The statement noted the the city had spent a great deal of time considering claims by GALEO, and had asked the group to provide information that would enable the city to create a single-member district where a minority voting group would constitute a majority. "To date, that information has not been forthcoming, and in lieu of data, we have repeatedly faced only unsupported assertions," read Dunagan.

The statement concluded with the comment "...to overhaul our working electoral process based on the arguments of a few and without any evidence to support a change, is not the right thing for Gainesville."

Charles Alvarez, a community activist who has appeared before Council to question the voting system, attended Tuesday's meeting. He said afterward he was surprised at the strong words in the statement.

"I just hope that this doesn't turn into something that will be litigated and will cost the citizens of Gainesville lots of money unnecessarily," said Alvarez.

GALEO has threatened legal action if the city refuses to adopt a by-district voting system.

Alvarez said he thinks it's likely GALEO may follow through on that action once they read City Council's statement.

"They might have a tendency to move...faster into litigation."

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