PRLDEF Asks Court to Stop All Elections for Kissimmee Commissioner Until the Election Process Is Changed

September 13, 2005
Contact: John Garcia, Director of Communications (212) 739-7513

The Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund (PRLDEF) and Orlando lawyers Luis Gonzalez and Darren Soto today asked the federal courts to stop all elections of Kissimmee Board of City Commissioners charging that the election process was in violation of federal law.

The lawyers, representing several Hispanic Kissimmee residents, filed a class action suit challenging the at-large method of electing members of the Board of City Commissioners. They claimed that the at-large system, where all candidates run city-wide, dilutes the voting strength of Hispanic voters and is in violation of the Voting Rights Act.

The plaintiffs asked the court to declare the at-large election method in violation of the Act; stop the city from holding any more elections for Board of City Commissioners under the at-large method; and to devise an election system that complies with the Voting Rights Act.

“At large elections serve to deny fair opportunities to minority voters,” said Cesar Perales, President and General Counsel of PRLDEF. “At-large election methods have been held by courts elsewhere to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act.”

Last month, the Department of Justice filed suit against Osceola County alleging that the county’s method of electing its governing body violates the Voting Rights Act. The complaint contends that the at-large method used to elect the Board of Commissioners in Osceola County dilutes the voting strength of the county’s Hispanic citizens in violation of the Act.

Under Kissimmee’s at-large election system, no minority has ever been elected to the Board, while almost 50% of Kissimmee’s population is Hispanic and African-American. Four of the five current commissioners reside in a small area in the Northeast section of the city.

The plaintiffs are Kissimmee residents Armando Ramirez, John Cortes, Caridad Cortes and John Ramirez.

“Our ultimate goal is to convince the federal district court judge that the single-member district process is more democratic, less costly and more beneficial to the non-affluent aspirants seeking public elective office regardless of race or ethnicity,” said Armando Ramirez.

The plaintiffs contend that the city employs its at-large election method in an effort to dilute the voting power of and discriminate against its Hispanic community.

In the court papers, the plaintiffs suggest that properly drawn single-member districts could lead to Hispanic representation on the Board. They claim that the Hispanic population is politically cohesive. Ramirez and Cortes have both run for office and garnered a majority of the Hispanic vote in their potential districts. They were unable to win due to the at-large election method.

“This case is about providing fair representation for all Kissimmee voters,” said Luis Gonzalez. “The single member district ensures that the wealth found in the diversity of our citizens is reflected in our leadership. As the Hispanic community grows in Kissimmee, the day will come when that community will constitute the majority. The remedy we seek in this action assures that no single ethnic group will ever have absolute control over issues that affect the community at large.”

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