Hillsborough Hispanic group files protest over county redistricting plan
A group of Hispanic leaders, working with a civil rights group out of New York City, has filed a protest with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging Hillsborough County commissioners' plans for redrawing their political districts. The Hillsborough Hispanic Coalition says the proposed maps actually dilute the ability of Latin voters to influence elections at a time when their population has exploded in Central Florida. And it says other maps considered by commissioners would have strengthened the Hispanic vote in districts that were more compact than the ones commissioners adopted. The coalition takes particular exception to the new boundaries for District 1, which takes in much of West Tampa, historically a Hispanic stronghold. The new boundaries lower the percentage of Hispanics from 35 percent in 2001 to 32 percent under the current plan, even though the Latin population accounted for 98 percent of the population growth in that area, according to a protest letter ceremonially signed Wednesday by local advocates. This is done in part by splitting part of West Tampa. District 3, which takes in much of Central and East Tampa, sees its Hispanic population shrink slightly, by less than a percentage point, under the redrawn maps. But the group says this is not insignificant since Hispanic residents account for an overwhelming share of the growth there. So, though Hispanics account for 55 percent of the growth in Hillsborough County in the past decade, the proposed redistricting map, "actually weakens their power," said Diana Sen, senior counsel for LatinoJustice PRLDEF, the New York group working with local advocates. Hillsborough County voting rights practices are overseen my the Department of Justice due to past discriminatory activity. DOJ is currently reviewing the redistricting map proposal from the county and is expected to stop accepting public comment on the plan next week.