In a bid to create a better chance for black residents of rural areas to get elected to local office, a team of civil rights and private lawyers has filed what one prominent civil rights organization calls the first major voting rights lawsuit of the year. Attorneys from from the Washington-based Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and two private law firms filed the suit Monday in federal court in North Carolina. The suit alleges that the black residents who account for about a third of the population in Jones County, N.C., are prevented from electing candidates who represent their needs because the county elects commissioners at large rather than by district. The complaint alleges the at-large system prevents black residents from electing black candidates from their communities, and says the at-large system dilutes black voting power.
The Lawyers’ Committee targeted Jones County because the issues there are emblematic of the challenges faced by black residents in rural areas across the country, Kristen Clarke, president and CEO of the Washington-based non profit, told USA TODAY. The organization seeks to move Jones County from an at-large electoral scheme to a system of single-member districts, Clarke said.
Lawyers from private law firms Patterson Harkavy in Chapel Hill, N.C., and Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton in New York are part of the team that filed the suit in New Bern, N.C. The action names the Board of Commissioners, the county Board of Elections and other parties.
The county declined comment because case is in litigation.