Hed: Judge denies injunction against Aberdeen elections
By Eileen Bailey
ABERDEEN – A federal judge ruled Wednesday that Aberdeen’s municipal elections can be held as scheduled next week.
Judge L.T. Senter ruled that a lawsuit seeking an injunction, filed one week before the election by the NAACP, did not show enough cause to halt balloting. But Senter said his ruling was not passing judgment “on the merits of the case one way or another.”
Cleveland attorney Ellis Turnage, representing the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its Monroe County chapter, filed the suit in an attempt to halt the elections. The suit claimed Aberdeen had failed to adopt and preclear a municipal redistricting plan with the U.S. Justice Department. The suit also claimed that a 1989 ward plan is badly apportioned and violated the one person, one vote principle of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
“I expected it,” Turnage said of the ruling, but he does not see the redistricting issue stopping here. In closing arguments, Turnage admitted that he submitted the suit at late date but said he only had two months to investigate the claims.
“The city has had this data for five years,” he said. “The data is now 16 years old.” Because of this, Turnage said, to hold the election now would be “unjust” to his clients.
Aberdeen City Attorney Jeff Navarro said he was “relieved” the hearing was over and the judge had denied the injunction. He said now the city can concentrate on its elections.
“Stopping the elections would cause harm to our community, voters and candidates,” Navarro said. The city has spent $15,000 on the election.
During the two-hour hearing, each side was allowed to call witnesses.
Turnage argued Aberdeen was operating under 1980 census figures used to approve a 1989 redistricting plan. Turnage said the same figures used in the 1989 redistricting plan were used in the 1992 plan, which was developed after 1990 census figures were released in April 1991.
Turnage also argued the numbers used showed a 16.59 deviation between the ward with the highest population and the ward with the lowest population. Turnage’s only witness, Louis Armstrong of the Mississippi Resource Development Network in Jackson, said the deviations occurred in Wards 2 and 3.
Armstrong, who has worked as a demographer with redistricting for the last 15 years, said to find the deviation he took the total population for Aberdeen and divided it by five, which represents the five wards. He then took the difference between the actual ward population and ideal ward population and divided that number by the ideal ward population to get the deviation figure.
To determine the total deviation Armstrong said he added the deviation from the ward with the highest population and the deviation from the ward with the lowest population.
In his closing arguments, Navarro contended the city submitted to the Justice Department information from the 1989 redistricting plan but also included surveys containing additional information obtained in 1990 and 1991 for the 1992 redistricting plan.
Navarro called Mid Brown, a data analyst with Three Rivers Planning and Development District in Pontotoc, to testify about the city’s attempts to redistrict in 1994 and 1995 and to testify about the city’s deviation figures. Brown, who has worked with several cities and counties on redistricting, assisted the city in its most recent voluntary redistricting efforts.
Brown testified that a deviation has occurred in Aberdeen not in Wards 2 and 3 but in Wards 1 and 2. Brown said that her data showed Ward 1 had a higher population than Ward 3, which Armstrong said had the highest population.
She said the deviation based on those figures is 13.25 percent and not 16.59 percent. Cities are allowed only a 10 percent deviation.
In announcing his decision, Judge Senter urged both parties to begin working together to come up with a solution in the redistricting plans.
Incumbent Ward 1 Alderman Wilchie Clay said he was pleased that the elections would be allowed to continue, both for incumbents and challengers. But, he said, it is “going to take people working together” to solve redistricting.