Residents of Small Florida Town Fight to Preserve "One Person, One Vote" in Elections

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
January 25, 2002 12:00 am

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WEST PALM BEACH, FL – Saying that a redistricting plan will serve to disenfranchise residents of a small Florida town, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida today filed a federal lawsuit seeking a more equitable districting scheme for voters.

“The Town’s election methods strike at the heart of underlying democratic principles by expressly prohibiting certain residents from having full participation in the political process,” said Randall Marshall, Legal Director of the ACLU of Florida, which filed the lawsuit along with the ACLU’s Atlanta-based National Voting Rights Project.

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of a group of Manalapan residents, calls on the court to postpone the March 5th Town Commission elections until voting districts are re-drawn to ensure that all registered voters are equally distributed and thus equally represented in the Town’s three voting districts.

At issue is the method of electing commissioners in the small town in northern Palm Beach County. The municipality consists of two separate areas, divided into three voting districts. There are 232 residents living on the island part of town, informally called the “Point,” and 89 living on the “Ocean” side along the coast. Although the “Point” has a much higher population, it constitutes only one district served by two commissioners. The “Ocean,” on the other hand, is divided into two districts with four commissioners.

“Under Manalapan’s current voting system, where you live determines the power of your vote,” said ACLU cooperating attorney James K. Green, who is serving as lead counsel in the case. “That undermines one of our democracy’s greatest strengths: that at the voting booth, each person stands equal to the next, no matter what their background, no matter where they live, or no matter how much money they make.”

Realizing their votes were being diluted under the current districting plan, residents of the “Point” gathered signatures for a petition drive asking the city to use adjusted 2000 Census figures to equally reapportion voting districts so that each of the town’s three election districts would contain approximately 107 persons. Last year, however, commissioners rejected a proposed redistricting plan that would have provided for equal representation.

“For decades, the majority of the residents in the Town of Manalapan have been denied their right to have their Town Commission apportioned in accordance with law,” said lawsuit plaintiff Basil Diamond, who led the petition drive for reapportionment. “Despite negotiations and other efforts to correct this, a minority of town residents, who control the mal-apportioned Town Commission and Town Administration, have frustrated the efforts of the majority.”

Other named plaintiffs include Peter Lamelas, Kelly Gottlieb and Elaine Darwin.

In addition to Green and Marshall, plaintiffs are being represented by ACLU cooperating attorney Glen J. Torcivia of West Palm Beach and Neil Bradley of the ACLU National Voting Rights Project.

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