Kinston citizens fight for non-partisan elections

The decision by the U.S. Department of Justice to overturn a referendum approving non-partisan city council elections in Kinston is a clear example of the abuse of Federal government power and a insult to the intelligence of all voters, said North Carolinians for Free and Proper Elections.

“Nearly two-thirds of Kinston voters decided to remove partisan bickering from their city council elections, yet the Justice Department saw fit to support the narrow interests of political parties over the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the people,” said Jordon Greene, NCFPE founder and president.

“This is repugnant to the basic principles of representative government,” he said. “And the reasoning given for the ruling is an insult to voters – both black and white.”

Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King argued that black voters require a party label, specifically the Democratic party label, in order to decide who to vote for.

“Removing the partisan cue in municipal elections will, in all likelihood, eliminate the single factor that allows black candidate to be elected to office,” she said. “In Kinston, voters base their choice more on the race of the candidate rather than his or her political affiliation, and without either the appeal to party loyalty of the ability to vote a straight ticket, the limited remaining support from white voters for a black Democratic candidate will diminish ever more.”

“This is a stunning pronouncement,” Greene said. “It implies that African-American voters aren’t smart enough to vote for the candidate who will best serve their interests, regardless of party or race.”

King claimed that “numerous elected municipal and county officials” confirmed the results of statistical analysis that a majority of white Democrats support white Republicans over black Democrats in Kinston elections.

“That’s another shocking observation, given the fact that the black voters comprise 64 percent of the registered voters and there is a overwhelming majority of registered Democrats in Kinston,” Greene said.

Greene noted that Kinston has never been found to have engaged in discriminatory election practices or had any previous voting changes denied by the Federal government.

In 2008, Kinston voters approved the referendum for non-partisan city council elections by a 2 to 1 margin (64 percent) and it passed in five of the seven precincts where blacks were the majority voters. Under the 1964 Voting Rights Act, the referendum had to be approved by the Department of Justice.

A group of Kinston citizens are suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to restore the vote results, claiming the ruling that section 5 of the Voting Rights Act is being used unconstitutionally to harm the election process in Kinston. The plaintiffs are Stephen LaRoque, John Nix, Klay Northrup, Lee Raynor, and Anthony Cuomo.

LaRoque organized the referendum and Raynor and Cuomo assisted him. Nix and Northrup intend to run for city council in 2011.

The Center for Individual Rights is representing the plaintiffs. CIR is a Washington DC nonprofit public interest law firm dedicated to the defense of individual liberties against the increasingly aggressive and unchecked authority of federal and state governments. CIR seeks to enforce constitutional limits on state and federal power.

Terence Pell, CIR president, acknowledged that the Voting Rights Act has been used to prevent disenfranchisement of black voters. But now he said that it’s being used to “set aside the votes of black voters in an actual election in favor of the federal government’s presumptions about the preference of voters in some future elections.”

“Such an extraordinary exercise of federal authority is neither supported by the Constitution nor by common sense,” he said.

For more on the lawsuit go here.