ALBANY — A federal appeals court on Tuesday backed a lower court’s decision  not to halt last year’s County Legislature elections based on a lawsuit alleging  voting rights violations in the county’s redistricting plan.
The 31-page ruling by the U.S. 2nd Circuit  Court of Appeals appears to be a victory for the county’s controversial  plan, under which the current 39 legislators were elected in November.
But the attorney representing the three women alleging the maps violate the  federal Voting Rights Act contends the decision contains key provisions that  will only strengthen their case at trial — including that the federal courts  have the power to vacate last year’s elections and reboot the  whole process.
In the suit, the plaintiffs — now-former Legislator Wanda  Willingham, legislative candidate Janis  Gonzalez and a local NAACP  leader Anne  Pope — allege the county’s redistricting commission did not do everything it  could to create a fifth legislative district in the city that had a majority of  minority voters.
The case hinges on thorny issues such as who, in the eyes of voting rights  law, should count as “black” and whether the city’s fast-growing Hispanic  population should be included for the purposes of drawing district lines.
And the divergent interpretations of the appeals court’s findings are just  the latest wrinkle in the contentious process of redrawing the county’s  political map in line with the 2010 Census — a process that has twice before in  prior decades ended with the courts requiring the county increase the number of  minority districts.
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