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Harris County, plaintiffs at mediation over redistricting map lawsuit

Monday, November 14, 2011

Harris County officials are working on hammering out a redistricting plan. They're running up against a deadline to come up with a map. Hispanic leaders have opposed the map that the county originally came up with.

As both sides headed to federal court on Monday, it turns out finding common ground is no easy matter.

In a quiet neighborhood near Hobby Airport, Will Dixon has lived in his Precinct 2 home for more than two decades, with just a few minor complaints.

"Cars double parked where you can't hardly get in, and vehicles parked in the front yard," said Dixon.

What he doesn't know is that his neighborhood is one of several at the heart of Harris County's redistricting battle. Harris Co. commissioners redrew the county precincts earlier this year, and now they're having to defend it in federal court.

"It's far more complicated than you would ever think. This is a very difficult task and it looks to me like the judge is going to have to make a decision," said Terry O'Rourke, 1st Asst. Harris County Attorney.

On Monday morning, Federal Judge Vanessa Gilmore listened to the plaintiffs argue the current map dilutes the Hispanic vote in Precinct 2 and violates the Voting Rights Act.

"The options are making sure everyone in Harris County has an opportunity to secure their vote," said Chad Dunn, plaintiff's attorney.

Mediation efforts between the plaintiffs and the county, who are the defendants, failed over the weekend. But Judge Gilmore is asking both sides to try and agree on a temporary map, so at least the 2012 county elections can go forward.

"There's a county sheriff's race, there is a district attorney's race, and the point is since there is a lawsuit we got to agree on a map," said Houston City Council Member Ed Gonzalez.

Both sides are headed back to court on Tuesday, hoping for a resolution, so Dixon will know whether he's in Precinct 1 or Precinct 2.

"It really doesn't matter what color a person is, really, it's the representation, as long as whichever candidate brings the best representation," said Dixon.

Meanwhile, the ongoing fight over the state redistricting maps is pushing back the date for candidates to file. They won't be able to do that until November 28.

Last week, a federal court ruled that the lines drawn by the GOP-led legislature used an improper standard to measure the strength of minority voting. A court in San Antonio is drawing a set of temporary maps for the 2012 elections.

Stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest on this story.

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