Sumter County, SC, June 27, 2002
||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||June 27, 2002|
Mr. Charles T. Edens
13 East Canal Street
Sumter, South Carolina 29150
Dear Mr. Edens:
This refers to the 2001 redistricting plan for Sumter
County, South Carolina, submitted to the Attorney General
pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. 1973c.
We received your responses to our March 12, 2002, request for
additional information on April 29, 2002.
We have considered carefully the information you have
provided, as well as census data, comments and information from
other interested parties, and other information, including the
county's previous submissions. Based on our analysis of the
information available to us, I am compelled to object to the
submitted redistricting plan on behalf of the Attorney General.
The 2000 Census indicates that Sumter County has a
population of 104,646, of whom 46.6 percent are black. The
county council consists of seven members elected from single-member
districts to serve four-year, staggered terms.
Under 2000 Census data, four of the seven districts in the
current, or benchmark, plan have both total and voting-age
populations that are majority black. In three of these four,
black voters will continue to have the ability to elect
candidates of their choice. However, our analysis shows that
this is not true for the fourth district, District 7. Under the
benchmark plan, black voters in that district have the ability to
elect their candidates of choice, and they will not have that
same ability under the proposed plan, which decreases the black
total population by 8.7 percentage points to 54.2 percent and the
black voting-age population by 9.6 percentage points to 49.3
Elections in the district are marked by a pattern of
racially polarized voting. For example, in the 1992 election for
District 7, the black supported candidate won the Democratic
primary with 54.7 percent of the vote. However, she lost to the
in the general election, receiving 44.9 percent of the votes, at
a time when black voters were approximately 50 percent of the
registered voters in the district. Our analysis shows that she
was clearly the preferred candidate of the black voters and that
the voting was racially polarized.
We also analyzed several county-wide elections to determine
whether black voters have the present ability to elect candidate
of choice under the benchmark plan District 7. It is clear that
they do. For example, in the 1996 county treasurer's election,
the black-preferred candidate lost the election county wide.
However, she would have been elected in the precincts that
comprise the benchmark district, but would not have been elected
in the precincts making up the proposed districts. In 2000, the
same candidate ran again and won by a small margin county wide.
She also won in both the precincts that comprise the benchmark
and the proposed district, but received 62.1 percent of the votes
in the benchmark and only 52.3 percent in the proposed district.
Accordingly, the implementation of the proposed plan will result
in a retrogression in the minority voters effective exercise of
their electoral franchise.
Further, the retrogression that occurred was not
unavoidable. Our analysis of the information submitted indicates
that the reduction of the black population percentage was not
required in order to comply with the county's stated
redistricting criteria. First, the district had the lowest
deviation of all districts and did not require any modification.
Second, the county's own consultant presented an alternative
plan, Version 1, which satisfied the county's initial
redistricting criteria and maintained the demographics of the
A proposed change has a discriminatory effect when it will
"lead to a retrogression in the position of racial minorities
with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral
franchise." Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 125, 141 (1976).
If the proposed plan materially reduces the ability of minority
voters to elect candidates of their choice to a level less than
what they enjoyed under the benchmark plan, preclearance must be
denied. State of Georgia v. Ashcroft, 195 F.Supp 2d. 25 (D.D.C.
2002). In Texas v. United States, the court held that
"preclearance must be denied under the 'effects' prong of Section
5 if a new system places minority voters in a weaker position
than the existing system." 866 F.Supp. 20, 27 (D.D.C. 1994).
With respect to the county's ability to demonstrate that the
plan was adopted without a prohibited purpose, the starting point
of our analysis is Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan
Housing Development Corp., 429 U.S. 252, 266 (1977). Under
Arlington Heights, the Supreme Court identified the analytical
structure for determining whether racially discriminatory intent
exists. This approach requires an inquiry into 1) the impact of
the decision; 2) the historical background of the decision,
particularly if it reveals a series of decisions undertaken with
discriminatory intent; 3) the sequence of events leading up to
the decision; and 4) whether the challenged decision departs,
either procedurally or substantively, from the normal practice;
and contemporaneous statements and viewpoints held by the
decision-makers. Id. at 266-68.
Here the county proceeded to reduce drastically the black
population percentage in the district despite the advice of its
retained redistricting consultant that such an approach could
result in the plan not being able to withstand scrutiny under
Section 5. Significantly, the retrogressive effect was
completely avoidable because, in the first place, the district's
configuration did not even have to be altered to comply with
constitutional standards. Alternatively, if the county did
desire to redraw the district, its redistricting consultant
presented it with an alternative that meet all of its legitimate
criteria while maintaining the minority community's electoral
ability in District 7; an alternative that the county rejected.
In these circumstance, we can not conclude that the county will
be able to sustain its burden, as it must, that the action in
question was not motivated by a discriminatory intent to
Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the submitting
authority has the burden of showing that a submitted change has
neither a discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect.
Georgia v. United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); Reno
v. Bossier Parish School Board, 528 U.S. 320 (2000); see also
the Procedures for the Administration of Section 5 (28 C.F.R. 51.52). In light
of the considerations discussed above, I cannot conclude that
your burden has been sustained in this instance. Therefore, on
behalf of the Attorney General, I must object to the submitted
We note that under Section 5 you have the right to seek a
declaratory judgment from the United States District Court for
the District of Columbia that the proposed changes neither have
the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the
right to vote on account of race, color, or membership in a
language minority group. See 28 C.F.R. 51.44. In addition, you
may request that the Attorney General reconsider the objection.
See 28 C.F.R. 51.45. However, until the objection is withdrawn
or a judgment from the District of Columbia Court is obtained,
the changes continue to be legally unenforceable. Clark v.
Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action Sumter County
plans to take concerning this matter. If you have any questions,
you should call Ms. Judith Reed (202-305-0164), an attorney in
the Voting Section. Refer to File No. 2001-3865 in any response
to this letter so that your correspondence will be channeled
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division