Hed: Lawsuit seeks to halt Aberdeen municipal elections
By Eileen Bailey
A lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court attempts to halt municipal elections in Aberdeen that are less than a week away.
Filed by Cleveland attorney Ellis Turnage on behalf of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and its Monroe County chapter, the suit seeks an injunction to stop elections set for next Tuesday because the city failed to adopt and preclear a municipal redistricting plan with the U.S. Justice Department.
Judge L.T. Senter will hear arguments on a plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction at 1:30 p.m. today in federal court in Aberdeen.
The Aberdeen Board of Aldermen met Tuesday night to discuss the lawsuit. Attending the meeting were several candidates for municipal office who would be affected if the election was not held.
There are five aldermanic races, a mayor’s race and an uncontested chief of police race scheduled for balloting Tuesday. The city has spent $15,000 on ballots and equipment, said Aberdeen City Clerk Susan Honeycutt.
Causes of action
Citing the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the once person, one vote principle of the 14th and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, the lawsuit lists four causes of action, including:
– The city’s refusal to adopt and preclear a redistricting plan to elect city council members results is a denial of rights of the plaintiffs.
– The city’s refusal to adopt and preclear a redistricting plan to elect city council members is based on a discriminatory purpose of diluting, minimizing and canceling out black voting strength in violation of the plaintiffs’ rights.
– The 1989 ward plan is badly apportioned and violates the one person, one vote principle of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment.
– The proposed aldermanic redistricting plan adopted by the city is legally unenforceable.
Aberdeen City Attorney Jeff Navarro said the city received Justice Department approval on Jan. 17, 1992, for its redistricting plan. In 1989 a federal court order forced the city to redistrict. Navarro said cities redistrict every 10 years after each census. But because the city’s 1989 plan was approved so late in the 10-year period, the same plan was submitted in 1992.
In late 1995, the city began looking at redistricting plans voluntarily with the help of a biracial committee from the community. A plan submitted to the U.S. Justice Department for approval was turned down. The Justice Department submitted another plan, but city officials said the plan provided a wider deviation than the plan they submitted.
With no plan approved, the city reverted to the approved 1992 plan for this year’s elections, Navarro said.
In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs ask the court:
– To rule that the 1989 redistricting plan violates the one person, one vote principle of the 14th Amendment
– To halt any further use of the 1989 plan, including its use in the upcoming election
– To halt the Tuesday election until an interim court-ordered plan is adopted and implemented.
-To award court costs and any other relief that may be just and equitable.
If the court permits the election, the suit states plaintiffs would like to see the terms be limited to one year and a new election ordered under a plan that has been obtained from the U.S. Attorney General.
The request for shortened terms was submitted Tuesday to the Board of Aldermen as an alternative to the suit, but board members took no action. Aldermen Wilchie Clay and Eddie Arnold said that accepting such an offer would not be fair to the candidates or those elected to serve.
Navarro said such a decision should be made by a judge.
Ward 4 candidate Al Clemons attended the meeting to hear more about the injunction and lawsuit. Clemons, who is taking his first trip into the election arena, said he questioned the suit being filed just a week before the election. Candidates, he said, have spent time and money in preparation for the election. “It’s not so much the money as it is the principal of the thing,” he said.