ATLANTA - The board of directors of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials (GALEO) has agreed to sue the city of Gainesville over its at-large voting system.
Executive Director Jerry Gonzalez confirmed the move Tuesday night.
GALEO has, for several months, been threatening to take the city to court, saying at-large voting violates the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in that it discriminates against the city's many Hispanic residents.
The city has steadfastly maintained that the system is not discriminatory.
Just recently, at a city council meeting, Mayor Danny Dunagan read a two-page statement strongly denying GALEO's allegations and emphasized that the at-large system of voting "is right for Gainesville." (See earlier story. Link first below.)
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 ruled 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."
GALEO battled the City in August 2011, claiming Hispanic voter numbers were growing but the at-large system diluted voting strength; city council members stuck by at-large voting. At-large means voters city wide choose the elected officials. Wards One and Four are up for election in November and for the first time so is the post of mayor.
"Everybody in the City will get the vote for those wards regardless of the fact that they may not live on those wards," Gonzalez said at a community meeting held in Gainesville April 12 to discuss the matter. (See earlier story. Second link below.). "That is the big rub that we have because there are three Latino majority wards in the City of Gainesville, so we think that an at large voting process dilutes those particular voters. It's unfair, it's unrepresentative."
Gonzalez said then he still had hopes still the City would choose to work with GALEO, and avoid a costly court battle.
"Litigation could cost the City upwards of maybe $1-million," Gonzalez said at the time. "I don't think the city taxpayers should be put through that unnecessary expense simply because the City Council is stubborn and not willing to look at the facts as we have them."
Gonzalez believes Latinos are not participating as voters because at-large voting discriminates against them, and suppresses and discourages them.
In confirming Tuesday night that his board has given the green light for the suit, Gonzalez said "we will move forward pending raising of funds to cover some non-legal costs."