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Pasadena Prepares For First City Election Since Voting Rights Verdict

A federal judge struck down Pasadena’s system for electing city council members in January, ruling it discriminated against Latino voters. The city government has appealed the decision to the U.S. Fifth Circuit.



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Pasadena will elect a new mayor and city council in May. It will be the first contest since a judge ruled the city discriminated against Latino voters. The outcome will determine whether the city continues to challenge the verdict.

In 2014, Pasadena narrowly approved a referendum, which changed the council to a mix of six members elected by geographic districts and two elected for the city at large. Before that, all members had been elected by single-member district. Attorneys for Latino voters argued the change was designed to help Anglo-backed candidates. U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal agreed and ordered the city to go back to the old system.

Robert Heath is an attorney handling the city's appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court. "We asked the court, both Judge Rosenthal and the Fifth Circuit to stay Judge Rosenthal's order pending the appeal, and they said no, they weren't going to do that," Heath says.

Pasadena Mayor Johnny Isbell, who championed the referendum, is term limited and won't be on the ballot. Seven candidates are vying to replace him. They include City Council Member Pat Van Houte, a key witness in the suit against the city. Van Houte says that, if elected, she will drop the appeal. Other candidates include City Council Member Jeff Wagner and former State Representative Gilbert Peña.

Early voting begins on April 24. The general election takes place May 6.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew Schneider is the senior reporter for politics and government at Houston Public Media, NPR's affiliate station in Houston, Texas. In this capacity, he heads the station's coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas Legislature and county and city governments...

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