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Worcester, minority residents settle voting rights lawsuit


WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) — A settlement has been reached in a lawsuit brought by a coalition of Black and Latino residents of Worcester who alleged that the city’s system of electing school committee members dilutes the voting power of people of color and violates federal voting laws.

In a joint filing Thursday, the plaintiffs and the city asked the federal judge overseeing the case to approve a settlement that would effectively end the legal battle and pave the way to replace the current at-large voting system with a system in which some members are elected by district, The Telegram & Gazette reported.

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The suit filed in February said despite the fact that more than half of students in Worcester identify as Hispanic, Latino/Latina or Black, the city’s six-member school committee is all white, and historically has been predominantly white.

“This is a major victory for the people of Worcester,” said Rebecca MacDowell Lecaroz, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The Worcester School Committee’s lack of diversity was a direct result of the city’s all at-large electoral system — which was directly counter to the fundamental principle of equal voting opportunity and a violation of federal law.”

The Worcester City Council voted 8-3 earlier this week to approve the filing and to authorize the city to enter into a consent decree with the plaintiffs.

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Mayor Joseph M. Petty said the willingness to work out a settlement rather than fight the lawsuit shows the community the council is listening.

“We’re trying to address concerns about representation — elected representation on the school committee,” Petty said.

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