Lawsuit filed against Jones County for voting rights violation
According to the complaint, five members are elected to the Board of Commissioners through a countywide at-large election. Even though black voters constitute 31.8 percent of the county’s voting-age population, they have been unable to elect a black candidate to the Board of Commissioners for over two decades. The complaint alleged the system violates section two of the Voting Rights Act.
The suit said the number of voting-age black voters in Jones County is large and compact, and would be able to constitute a majority in at least one single-member district. But this is not possible under the current, at-large system which dilutes the votes of the black population in the county.
Dorian Spence, counsel at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the result of black candidates not getting enough support to be elected to the Board of Commissioners is that the board doesn’t respond to the needs of the community.
Spence said having single-member districts would give more representation to all county voters.
“This case is about giving a voice to all of the voters of Jones County instead of marginalizing one third of the population,” he said.
Kristen Clarke, president and executive director for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said the national focus on voter fraud is extremely frustrating.
“What we see in the context of our work is extensive evidence of rampant voter suppression and voting discrimination across the country,” she said in an email. “Discrimination is particularly rampant in Jones County.”
Mark Dorosin, managing attorney at UNC’s Center for Civil Rights, said the case was rightfully filed.
“I think that the complaint highlights a clear voting rights violation in Jones County, and I think that the challenge that’s being brought is very compelling and highlights the inequities in the political processes that exist in Jones County,” Dorosin said.
The Jones County election system is problematic in having the five seats elected at large, he said.
“What they should have is a district system which would reflect the relative populations and appropriately reflect the political power of the very large African-American minority in the county,” Dorosin said.
Spence said the committee hopes fair voting systems are established.
“We would like the county to move to five single-member districts where each Board of Commissioners represents one district of roughly the same population size,” he said.
Spence said he does not think there is any way for the county to defend the current method for electing the county board.
“The reason we have acts like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 is to ensure that elections are fair and unfortunately this unfair election scheme and discriminatory election scheme has gone on too long in the county.”
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