WASHINGTON (CN) – Voters in Kinston, North Carolina say the Voting Rights Act unfairly prevents their town from holding nonpartisan municipal elections. Kinston Citizens for Non-Partisan Voting, two City Council hopefuls and three voters challenge Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which states that changes to an electoral system must be precleared by the U.S. attorney general.
“The preclearance process is costly and burdensome and requires unnecessary and disruptive delays. It also deprives local jurisdictions of essential attributes of self-governance,” the voters say.
They plaintiffs say they “successfully sponsored and voted for a referendum that would have amended the Kinston city charter to change from partisan to nonpartisan local elections.”
But Acting U.S. Attorney General Loretta King objected to the change, claiming that nonpartisan elections would suppress black votes.
The plaintiffs call that decision arbitrary and incorrect. They say it was based on statistics that are 45 years old, and add that the referendum passed by a 2-to-1 margin in precincts where a majority of voters are African-American.
Plaintiffs John Nix and Klay Northrup plan to run for City Council. They say the partisan electoral system “increases the burdens and costs” for them to be placed on the ballot. The system requires them to obtain 40 percent of the vote in a party primary, or signatures from 4 percent of all registered voters. They say these factors will force them to associate or disassociate with a political party, burdening their freedom of political association.
They claim the U.S. Attorney General denied them equal, race-neutral treatment.
They want a three judge panel to declare that Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act violates the Fifth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. They also want an injunction enjoining the Attorney General from enforcing Section 5.
Kinston Citizens for Non-Partisan Voting is represented by Michael Carvin with Jones Day.