A rural North Carolina county could elect black candidates to serve on its governing board for the first time in more than 20 years, because of a court settlement reached this week in a voting rights lawsuit. A national civil rights organization sued in February on behalf of black voters who alleged racial discrimination in how commissioners are elected in Jones County, 100 miles (161 kilometers) southeast of Raleigh. Rather than continue costly litigation, the two sides reached an agreement in which at-large elections for the five commissioner posts will be replaced with a system in which seven commissioners are elected in specific districts. The change, approved by a federal judge, will take place for the 2018 elections.
“The parties share the goal that all future elections for the Jones County Board of Commissioners be conducted under a method of election that allows Jones County’s African American voters an equal opportunity to elect their candidates of choice,” the agreement signed Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Louise Flanagan reads.
Nearly one-third of the county’s 10,000 residents are African American, but a black candidate hasn’t been elected to the commission since 1994 and the countywide election system is to blame, according to the initial lawsuit. Under the redistricting plan, two of the seven districts are calculated with black voting-age populations slightly above 50 percent.