Justice concludes black voters need Democratic Party

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In Kinston’s heyday of manufacturing and tobacco farming, it was a bustling collection of shops, movie theaters and restaurants. Now, many of those buildings are vacant - a few have been filled by storefront churches - and residents are left hoping for better days.

In November’s election - one in which “hope” emerged as a central theme - the city had uncommonly high voter turnout, with more than 11,000 of the city’s 15,000 voters casting ballots. Kinston’s blacks voted in greater numbers than whites.

Whites typically cast the majority of votes in Kinston’s general elections. Kinston residents contributed to Barack Obama’s victory as America’s first black president and voted by a margin of nearly 2-to-1 to eliminate partisan elections in the city.

The measure appeared to have broad support among both white and black voters, as it won a majority in seven of the city’s nine black-majority voting precincts and both of its white-majority precincts.

But before nonpartisan elections could be implemented, the city had to get approval from the Justice Department.

Kinston is one of the areas subject to provisions of the landmark 1965 Voting Rights Act, which requires the city to receive Justice Department approval before making any changes to voting procedures. Kinston is one of 12,000 voting districts in areas of 16 states, almost exclusively in the South, that the Voting Rights Act declared to have had a history of racial discrimination.

In a letter dated Aug. 17, the city received the Justice Department’s answer: Elections must remain partisan because the change’s “effect will be strictly racial.”

“Removing the partisan cue in municipal elections will, in all likelihood, eliminate the single factor that allows black candidates to be elected to office,” Loretta King, who at the time was the acting head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, wrote in a letter to the city.

Ms. King wrote that voters in Kinston vote more along racial than party lines and without the potential for voting a straight Democratic ticket, “the limited remaining support from white voters for a black Democratic candidate will diminish even more.”

Ms. King is the same official who put a stop to the New Black Panther Party case. In that case, the Justice Department filed a civil complaint in Philadelphia after two members of the black revolutionary group dressed in quasi-military garb stood outside a polling place on election last year and purportedly intimidated voters with racial insults, slurs and a nightstick.

After a judge ordered a default judgments against the Panthers, who refused to answer the charges or appear in court, the Justice Department dropped the charges against all but one of the defendants, saying “the facts and the law did not support pursuing” them.

Ms. King’s letter in the Kinston case states that because of the low turnout black voters must be “viewed as a minority for analytical purposes,” and that “minority turnout is relevant” to determining whether the Justice Department should be allowed a change to election protocol.

Black voters account for 9,702 of the city’s 15,402 registered voters but typically don’t vote at the rates whites do.

As a result of the low turnout, Ms. King wrote, “black voters have had limited success in electing candidates of choice during recent municipal elections.”

“It is the partisan makeup of the general electorate that results in enough white cross-over to allow the black community to elect a candidate of choice,” she wrote.

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About the Author
Ben Conery

Ben Conery

Ben Conery is a member of the investigative team covering the Supreme Court and legal affairs. Prior to coming to The Washington Times in 2008, Mr. Conery covered criminal justice and legal affairs for daily newspapers in Connecticut and Massachusetts. He was a 2006 recipient of the New England Newspaper Association’s Publick Occurrences Award for a series of articles about ...

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