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Friday, December 2, 2011 - 12:05pm

At-Large Voting Districts Challenged

A Latino organization is challenging at-large voting districts in the cities of Dalton and Gainesville. The group says the districts disenfranchise non-white voters.

In an at-large district, all registered voters can cast a ballot for a candidate, not just the residents of a particular district.

And the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials says that means all voters have a say in electing office-holders, even in majority-Hispanic districts.

In Dalton, for example, Hispanics make up almost half of the population but all four city council members are white.

Jerry Gonzalez is the group’s executive director.

“In the city of Dalton, there are two Latino majority districts," he said. "In the city of Gainesville, there are three Latino majority districts. And we wanted to make sure that Latinos, according to the Voting Rights Act, have an equal chance to elect candidates of choice.”

Dalton Mayor David Pennington says he doesn’t want to violate any voter’s rights. And he says says he’s working with GALEO to shift district lines.

But he says it won’t be easy because many Hispanic residents live on the city’s less-populated East side.

“Instead of going east to west, [we could go] north to south, which means one of the districts would be on the east side but in order to get enough population, it has to curl around and get a lot of the west side, where you still end up with basically the same results,” he said.

Pennington also says many Hispanic residents can’t vote because they’re too young or not citizens so he's not sure if the changes will do much to alter future election results.

He says Dalton has always had at-large districts, in part, because with a population of 33,000, the city isn't very large.

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