A lawsuit filed in federal court Monday alleged that a North Carolina county discriminated against African-Americans in violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Four residents of Jones County filed the suit to force the county to change the way it elects its Board of Commissioners, the county's governing body. The five-member board hasn't had a black member since 1994, despite the fact that the county's population is 30 percent African-American. The county elects commissioners using an "at-large" system in which each commissioner is elected by the entire voting population of the county, which allows white voters to defeat African-American candidates, the suit alleges.
The plaintiffs, who were represented by the The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and two other law firms, want a federal court to declare the at-large system a violation of the Voting Rights Act and implement a system in which commissioners get elected from single-member districts.
"The at-large election scheme dilutes the African-American vote and deprives African-American voters of an equal opportunity to elect candidates of their choice," the suit said. "Combined with other factors, such as the history of racial discrimination in voting, the perpetuation of racial appeals in elections in Jones County, and the effects of decades of socioeconomic discrimination against African Americans throughout North Carolina, the at-large election scheme violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act."
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits voting practices or procedures that discriminate on the basis of race, color, or membership in language minority groups.
Lawyers have attacked at-large voting systems as discriminatory in the past. "Most of the cases arising under Section 2 since its enactment involved challenges to at-large election schemes," the Justice Department's website said. In 1982, the Supreme Court ruled the at-large voting system in Burke County, Georgia discriminated against black voters in Rodgers v. Lodge.