For Immediate Release
ACLU Urges Department of Justice to Object to Changes in County Board Elections in South Carolina
Changes Would Dilute Minority Vote
WINNSBORO, S.C. - In a letter sent today to the U.S.
Department of Justice (DOJ), the American Civil Liberties Union urged
the DOJ to object to changes to board elections for the Fairfield County
School District in South Carolina because the changes would dilute the
voting strength of minorities in Fairfield County. Because of its
history of discrimination against minority voters, South Carolina is
required under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act to preclear changes to
election procedures before they may be implemented.
The changes, authorized by a bill
passed by the South Carolina Legislature, allow the Fairfield County
legislative delegation to appoint two additional members to the Board of
Trustees of the Fairfield County School District, increasing its size
from seven to nine. The existing members of the board were elected by
residents of Fairfield County in district elections. Fairfield County
and the Board of Trustees of the Fairfield County School District are
"Allowing members of the state
legislative delegation to appoint board members of the Fairfield County
school district circumvents the power of county voters, the majority of
whom are black, to elect their own local officials," said Laughlin
McDonald, Director of the ACLU Voting Rights Project. "That violates one
of the central tenants of our democracy, that every American citizen
has the right to participate equally in the political process."
In its comment letter to the DOJ, the
ACLU says that the changes to the board's elections would have a
retrogressive effect on minority voting strength in the county in
violation of the Voting Rights Act. The letter points out that
appointing additional members to the board would dilute the power of the
existing seven board members, six of whom are black. More importantly,
it would dilute the power of voters of Fairfield County, which is 59
percent black, to select all the members of the Board of Trustees.
"It's clear that the changes to the
school board elections in Fairfield County would dilute the minority
vote in the county and don't meet the requirements of the Voting Rights
Act," said Herbert Buhl, the cooperating attorney in Columbia, South
Carolina who co-wrote the letter to the DOJ. "The DOJ should object to
The South Carolina legislation
authorizing the appointments was crafted by Sen. Creighton Coleman and
Rep. Boyd Brown. Their stated purpose was to offset an existing
four-member majority voting bloc on the Board of Trustees that the
legislators claim is stymieing progress.
The ACLU letter outlines the long
history of segregation and racial discrimination in South Carolina and
Fairfield County and the obstacles to voting minorities have faced
there, including racially polarized voting and as late as the 1980s,
reports of whites threatening blacks to stay away from the polls. The
ACLU has represented black voters in Fairfield County in two prior cases
challenging discriminatory voting practices.
The ACLU's letter to the DOJ,
co-authored by McDonald and Buhl, can found at: www.aclu.org/voting-rights/
More information about the ACLU
Voting Rights Project can be found at: www.aclu.org/votingrights/
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) conserves America's original civic values working in courts, legislatures and communities to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in the United States by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.