DETROIT (CN) – The city of Eastpointe, Michigan, agreed to a settlement Wednesday with the Department of Justice to change the process of how city council members are elected. The city was sued by the DOJ over allegations they did not provide an equal voting system for their citizens.
“Social, civic and political life in the city of Eastpointe remains divided along racial lines,” the original complaint stated. “This racial separation results in black candidates for city office having less opportunity than white candidates to solicit the votes of the majority of voters.”
The settlement must still be approved by a federal judge in Detroit where the 2017 lawsuit was filed. The DOJ alleged the traditional at-large style of election was unfair to people of color in the districts who were rarely represented equally among the city council.
City Manager Steve Duchane, a defendant in the complaint, said he was hopeful at the time of the filing for a quick settlement.
“We understand that our demographics have changed, that minorities are an increasing segment of our population and that it may be time to replace a voting system that’s been in place for nearly 90 years with a new method that affords minorities a better chance to have representation on our City Council,” he said.
The city will use a voter education initiative provided by the settlement to educate its citizens about the new method where voters will rank city council members in their order of preference beginning with the November 2019 election. The consent decree said the city was never accused of deliberate discriminatory voting practices.
“This agreement reflects the Department’s resolute commitment to vigorous enforcement of the Voting Rights Act to protect the right to vote in all elections,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ. “We are pleased that the city of Eastpointe has worked cooperatively with the department to adopt a solution that safeguards the right to vote.”
“Voting is the cornerstone of our republic, and the Justice Department is committed to protecting and strengthening the right to vote,” said United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan Matthew Schneider. “This settlement reflects the desire of all of the parties to ensure the citizens of Eastpointe have a meaningful opportunity to choose their elected representatives.”
The settlement agreement expires in four years but can be renewed if both parties agree.