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Latinos upset over voting rights in Los Angeles

November 30, 2013

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Obama administration is aggressively pursuing lawsuits over minority voting rights in the U.S. South, but the Justice Department has not moved on evidence that the latest round of redistricting in the nation’s largest county unfairly reduces the influence of Latino voters.

Nearly half the 10 million people in Los Angeles County are Latino. But political boundaries redrawn in 2011 make it possible for Latino voters to elect just one of the five supervisors.

The Obama administration has resisted calls to sue the county, despite the county’s history of discrimination against Latino voters in earlier redistricting efforts.

The inaction upsets some Latino activists who count themselves as strong backers of President Barack Obama.

“Obama is somewhat blind to the issues of Latinos,” said Cruz Reynoso, a former California Supreme Court justice and member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Reynoso said the administration seems more attuned to voting rights complaints of African-Americans.

He said the administration also appears reluctant to pursue a complaint against a jurisdiction that is dominated by Obama’s fellow Democrats.

After a U.S. Supreme Court decision in June that rendered useless an important enforcement provision of the Voting Rights Act, the administration has focused its voting rights resources on Southern states that are controlled by Republicans.

The Justice Department has initiated or joined suits targeting voter identification laws and redistricting plans in North Carolina and in Texas.

The Justice Department acknowledges it is looking at the situation in Los Angeles, but otherwise declined comment.

Matt Barreto, a political science professor and voting rights expert at the University of Washington, said the evidence against the county is overwhelming and includes a history of racially polarized voting that has hurt Latinos.

“My perspective is that this is one of the easiest cases to be made nationally,” said Barreto, who has worked for the group of Latinos that includes Reynoso.

A voter-approved independent board draws California’s congressional and legislative districts, but counties retain the authority to devise their own districts.

In Los Angeles, each of five supervisors represents nearly 2 million people, and the county’s annual budget tops $26 billion.

Gloria Molina, the only Latina ever elected to the board, and Mark Ridley-Thomas, the board’s lone African-American member, had supported maps that would have created a second district with a majority of Latino residents. But the two members could not persuade their three white colleagues to join them.

Molina was elected after a federal court documented political discrimination against Latinos dating back to the 1950s and drew a map to ensure Latinos would be represented.

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