A federal voting rights lawsuit challenging the election scheme in a North Carolina county was filed today in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina.
The complaint was brought on behalf of voters in Jones County, North Carolina by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, along with law firms Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP and Patterson Harkavy LLP. The lawsuit alleges that the county’s method of electing its Board of Commissioners—the five-member body that makes critical and wide-ranging decisions impacting Jones County residents—dilutes the voting strength of its African American voters, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Because the county employs an “at-large” system, all Commissioners are elected county-wide. In Jones County, voting remains racially polarized and white voters historically vote as a bloc to defeat candidates of choice supported by the African American community. As a result, African American voters have not been able to elect a candidate of their choice to the Board of Commissioners since 1994, though they comprise nearly a third of the county’s voting-age population. The result, according to the complaint, is the “systemic neglect” of the needs of African Americans in Jones County.