Black plaintiffs won an out-of-court settlement in a Voting Rights Act case that will create two minority single-member voting districts in Jones County.
The action was announced Thursday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee), and law firms representing four plaintiffs against the Jones County Board of Commissioners, county manager, and county Board of Elections.
The Jones County lawsuit claimed the at-large electoral process used to elect the five-member County Board of Commissioners diluted the voting strength of African-American voters, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This case was the first case filed under the Voting Rights Act in the nation in 2017.
The suit bears some similarity to the more sweeping Covington v. North Carolina case that resulted in the current remapping of 19 House and nine Senate districts. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower federal court ruling that Republican lawmakers diluted black voting strength by allotting too many black voters in targeted districts, diminishing black voting strength elsewhere. That case also involved allegations about violations of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
“This important victory ensures that African-American voters in Jones County will have an opportunity to elect representatives of their choice,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, said in a news release.
The District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina approved the consent judgment and decree, which will replace the at-large method used to elect the Board with a system of single-member districts.
Jones County has 10,153 residents, according to the 2010 Census. The voting age population is 32 percent black and 63 percent white.
No African-American candidate has been elected to the Jones County Board of Commissioners since 1994. Plaintiffs claimed that was due to racially polarized voting. White voters consistently vote as a bloc to defeat candidates supported by the black community. “Systemic neglect” of the needs and concerns of African Americans resulted, according to the lawsuit.
Under the terms of the settlement agreement, Jones County will move to a single-member district system and add two seats to the Board of Commissioners. Two of the seven members will be elected from districts in which African Americans will comprise a majority.
This case is part of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Lawyers’ Committee’s ongoing efforts to combat voting discrimination and voter suppression across the country.