Changes Would Dilute Minority Vote
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WINNSBORO, SC – In a letter sent today to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the American Civil Liberties Union urged the DOJ to object to changes to board elections for the Fairfield County School District in South Carolina because the changes would dilute the voting strength of minorities in Fairfield County. Because of its history of discrimination against minority voters, South Carolina is required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to preclear changes to election procedures before they may be implemented.
The changes, authorized by a bill passed by the South Carolina Legislature, allow the Fairfield County legislative delegation to appoint two additional members to the Board of Trustees of the Fairfield County School District, increasing its size from seven to nine. The existing members of the board were elected by residents of Fairfield County in district elections. Fairfield County and the Board of Trustees of the Fairfield County School District are majority African-American.
"Allowing members of the state legislative delegation to appoint board members of the Fairfield County school district circumvents the power of county voters, the majority of whom are black, to elect their own local officials," said Laughlin McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "That violates one of the central tenants of our democracy, that every American citizen has the right to participate equally in the political process."
In its comment letter to the DOJ, the ACLU says that the changes to the board's elections would have a retrogressive effect on minority voting strength in the county in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The letter points out that appointing additional members to the board would dilute the power of the existing seven board members, six of whom are black. More importantly, it would dilute the power of voters of Fairfield County, which is 59 percent black, to select all the members of the Board of Trustees.
"It's clear that the changes to the school board elections in Fairfield County would dilute the minority vote in the county and don't meet the requirements of the Voting Rights Act," said Herbert Buhl, the cooperating attorney in Columbia, South Carolina who co-wrote the letter to the DOJ. "The DOJ should object to them."
The South Carolina legislation authorizing the appointments was crafted by Sen. Creighton Coleman and Rep. Boyd Brown. Their stated purpose was to offset an existing four-member majority voting bloc on the Board of Trustees that the legislators claim is stymieing progress.
The ACLU letter outlines the long history of segregation and racial discrimination in South Carolina and Fairfield County and the obstacles to voting minorities have faced there, including racially polarized voting and as late as the 1980s, reports of whites threatening blacks to stay away from the polls. The ACLU has represented black voters in Fairfield County in two prior cases challenging discriminatory voting practices.
The ACLU's letter to the DOJ, co-authored by McDonald and Buhl, can found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/aclu-letter-doj-objecting-changes-fairfax-county-board-trustees-elections
More information about the ACLU Voting Rights Project can be found at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/index.html