Late Friday, the USDOJ pre-cleared Kinston nonpartisan elections. Read: USDOJ Letter Pre-Cleared 2012-02-10
Here are some of my thoughts:
As someone who went door to door collecting signatures for the nonpartisan ballot, I feel a sense of vindication today. The previous city council not only wouldn’t allow the measure on the ballot in 2009, but wouldn’t even appeal USDOJ’s decision when two-thirds of their citizens voted for it. This is a victory for the citizens of Kinston! However, after reading the final letter from USDOJ pre-clearing Kinston to have nonpartisan elections in 2013, I’m actually disgusted at the politics played by the Obama and Holder administration and I hope this issue isn’t over. Let me explain.
The centerpiece of USDOJ’s reason for flip-flopping on this issue is built upon a very weak argument. The “information that is now available” includes the fact that the census over the last decade (2000-2010) shows an increase in registered black voters from 58.8 to 65.0 percent. However, the USDOJ fails to mention the fact that there’s been little to no change (0.4%) in that same demographic from 2009 (when the vote in question took place) to 2011 (when the school board submitted data from the 2011 elections). In their own letter, dated August 17, 2009, they acknowledge that 64.6% of the city’s registered voters were African-American. Yet, in the new decision they center their argument around the fact that the number is now 65.4%. And, that’s what they call “a substantial change in operative fact”?
The USDOJ also fails to simply admit that ANY population, which has a majority of the registered voters in an area, is more than capable of electing candidates of choice. They want to avoid this discussion because it calls in to question the validity of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
The USDOJ even has the audacity to point out that the 2011 City elections had a majority of black voters, who coincidentally elected the first majority black city council. Certainly we can celebrate the latter, but that has been possible for about two decades in Kinston. And what electoral process change occurred from 2009 to 2011 to allow that to happen? None. The people voted to make that happen.
The USDOJ should have listened to the WILL OF THE PEOPLE when two-thirds of our community voted to have nonpartisan elections in the first place. If that had been the case, then the 2011 city elections would’ve been nonpartisan. Meaning the city taxpayers would’ve saved roughly $20,000 in primary election costs.
The current litigation LaRoque, et. al. versus Holder doesn’t just challenge the USDOJ’s decision in Kinston’s nonpartisan case, it actually challenges the fact that we still have to be pre-cleared at all. By USDOJ’s own admission, Kinston has proven that the black population can elect “candidates of choice.”
The USDOJ will use their new-found approval as an argument for the courts to dismiss that same litigation. However, the challenge should actually receive a boost in it’s argument since the USDOJ has flip-flopped based on their interpretation of “information that is now available.” They simply have built a house of cards to appease politicos and not Lady Justice.
This certainly strengthens John Nix’s argument that he, as an unaffiliated candidate, is discriminated against by the very law (Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act) that is meant to protect minorities. And, USDOJ has probably done more to ensure this should go to the Supreme Court than they have in trying to undo this mess that they created.
There was no “shift in electoral pattern” from 2009 to 2011 as cited by USDOJ as a reason to flip-flop on their decision. This is pure politics by the Obama and Holder administrations to attempt avoiding the constitutionality challenge of the pre-clearance process altogether.
For more background on this issue, visit: http://bjmurphy.org/mayor-murphy-responds-to-usdoj-letter-regarding-nonpartisan-elections/