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A Republican-backed coalition that failed to persuade the California Supreme Court to kill the state's newly drawn Senate maps is now asking the federal government to reject the lines as a dilution of Latino voting power.

Fairness & Accountability in Redistricting - leaders of a separate referendum drive against the state Senate maps -- has filed arguments with the U.S. Department of Justice challenging the legality of the new boundary lines, attorney Charles H. Bell Jr. said.

Stan Forbes, chairman of the state's 14-member California Citizens Commission, countered today that he is confident the Senate districts will be given thumbs-up by federal officials.

"We were very careful in meeting (requirements), we were very careful in creating the districts, and everything we did was vetted by our Voting Rights Act attorneys," Forbes said.

Republican officials have expressed concern since their adoption in August that the new Senate districts favor Democrats and could give that party a two-thirds majority in the upper house, the margin needed to raise taxes or fees.

The federal government is required to monitor redistricting in four California counties -- Yuba, Monterey, Kings and Merced -- to ensure that minority voting power be preserved.

The 11-page challenge filed by Bell notes that redistricting lowered from six to five the number of Senate districts in which Latinos comprise 50 percent or more of the voting age population.

The complaint focuses on Senate districts that were drawn in Monterey and Merced counties by California's redistricting commission, which was created by voter passage of a 2008 ballot measure to replace lawmakers in drawing legislative and congressional maps.

The 14-member panel should have created a Senate district that helped preserve Latino voting power by joining the East San Jose area in Santa Clara County with the Salinas area in Monterey County. Latinos would have comprised nearly 39 percent of the voting age population in such a district, Bell noted.

"Had the commission done so, the likelihood is very great a Latino would win that Senate seat," Bell noted in his complaint.

The commission also could have drawn lines in a way that paired Merced County with Central Valley communities in forming a Senate district with a Latino voting-age population of more than 60 percent, Bell said.

The second prong of opponents' fight against the Senate maps involves gathering voter signatures in hopes of letting voters decide the fate of the 53 new districts in balloting next year.

To qualify for the ballot, the campaign must gather 504,760 valid voter signatures by Nov. 14. Officials say they have collected 500,000 signatures and have a goal of 700,000.

The referendum drive is bankrolled largely by the California Republican Party and a handful of its current or former state senators.

* Updated at 12:30 to add quote from Stan Forbes, current chairman of the redistricting commission.


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