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White residents sue City of St. Gabriel over voting rights

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ST. GABRIEL - Two white residents in the City of St. Gabriel are suing the city claiming their voting rights have been violated by the structure of the city council.

The residents want the city to take on a redistricting plan that would divide the city into sections. Currently council members are elected at-large, which means those with the highest number of votes win no matter where they live in the city.

All five council member positions are currently being held by African Americans, a pattern attorney Dannie Garrett said is well-established.

"There's only been one white person ever elected to any municipal office in the history of St. Gabriel," Garrett told News 2.

The racial makeup of St. Gabriel is currently 65 percent African American and 35 percent white.

"Normally the racial balance is just the opposite," Garrett said. "But everyone acknowledges voting rights apply to everyone."

Around St. Gabriel, opinions were mixed as to what should happen. Some believe changes need to be made, while others think it should stay the way it is.

"You've got five blacks in there right now," African-American resident Larry Baker said. "It's not equal anywhere. It should be changed. It should be changed."

"If a person goes in there and does their job they are elected to do it, I don't have a problem," said resident Todd Arceneaux, who is white.

The attorney representing the white residents in St. Gabriel told WBRZ he couldn't give any examples where the black city council didn't work for the white residents. However, he did say diversity and having the population represented is important.

Phil Canova, the attorney representing St. Gabriel, declined to do an interview on-camera but said whites can't prove there has been any discrimination of their voting rights.

As this battle continues to play out in federal court, the plaintiff's attorney contends if nothing is done, you'll never see diversity in town's politics.

"The majority race candidate or candidate of the majority race of voters is always going to win," Garrett said.

All sides were supposed to appear in court Wednesday but the hearing was cancelled because the judge was sick. The hearing has not been rescheduled yet.

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