Lawyers for a group of North Carolina residents who favor nonpartisan municipal elections in their city urged a federal appeals court in Washington today to strike down the federal law the U.S. Justice Department enforced to block a referendum to change the city’s electoral scheme.
The city of Kinston, N.C., sought permission from the Justice Department to amend the city’s electoral system to a nonpartisan ballot. In August 2009, Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said the “elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of their choice.” Kinston is more than 60% black.
Kinston city officials that year declined to challenge Holder’s objection to the proposed electoral changes. The city’s decision raised questions of whether the plaintiffs have standing to pursue their own challenge of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.
A group of residents, including City Council hopeful John Nix, filed suit last year in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia challenging the constitutionality of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. Last December, Judge John Bates sided with DOJ in granting the department’s motion to dismiss. (Bates’ opinion is here.)