||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||July 9, 2002|
Darvin Satterwhite, Esq.
P.O. Box 325
Goochland, Virginia 23063
Dear Mr. Satterwhite:
This refers to the 2001 redistricting plan for the board of
supervisors for Cumberland County, Virginia, submitted to the
Attorney General pursuant to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act,
42 U.S.C. 1973c. We received your most recent response to our
October 15, 2001, request for additional information on May 10,
We have carefully considered the information you have
provided, as well as census data, and comments and information
from other interested parties. Based on the information
available to us, I am compelled to object to the submitted 2001
redistricting plan on behalf of the Attorney General.
According to the 2000 Census, black persons represent 37.5
percent of Cumberland County's total population and 35.9 percent
of its voting age population. The county's board of supervisors
consists of five members elected from single-member, residency
districts to serve four-year terms. According to the 2000
Census, District 3 is the only district in which black persons
constitute a majority of the total population. Under the
existing, or benchmark, plan, they constitute 55.9 percent of the
total population, which, under the proposed plan would be reduced
to 55.3 percent. Additionally, 2000 Census data indicates that
this district has a majority black voting age population of 55.7
percent which would be reduced to 55.2 percent under the county's
The county suggests that there was a thorough, complete, and
exhaustive consideration of a variety of possible district
boundaries. However, despite our repeated requests for
alternative plans, the county has provided but a single
alternative configuration of the district, which has virtually
identical demographics as the one for which preclearance is
sought. The benchmark and proposed plans that were included in
the county's response are not considered alternative plans for
purposes of our Section 5 review.
Under the benchmark plan, the district had a deviation of
9.7 percent, clearly necessitating the removal of some persons to
bring it within the county's goal of a +5 percent deviation. In
order to comply with the one-person, one-vote standard, the
county removed 213 persons from the district.
This action does not withstand scrutiny as support of the
county's claim that its actions were taken without an intent to
retrogress, and indeed the county has not carried its burden of
proving a lack of retrogressive intent. In its initial
submission the county claims to have reviewed 15 to 20
alternative plans, in an effort to ensure that black voting
strength was maintained. Yet despite repeated requests for these
materials the county has never produced them. Moreover, the
magnitude of the population movement in the revised District 3
was excessive because it resulted in the district being
transformed from the most overpopulated district to the most
underpopulated, with a deviation of -2.3 percent. In addition,
not only did the county remove more population than was
necessary, but the areas that the county did choose to remove
were those areas with a significantly higher level of black
population concentration than of the district as a whole.
Finally, the areas that were moved out of the district were the
areas from which the black-preferred candidate in District 3 drew
substantial support in the 1995 and 1999 elections.
It is especially important to view this change in light of
alternative plans that could have been drawn. In part, because
the county refused to provide us with all alternatives it
considered, we sought to determine whether there were
illustrative plans that meet the county's redistricting criteria,
but which did not result in the retrogression evidenced by the
proposed plan. See Guidance Concerning Redistricting and
Retrogression Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C.
1973c, 66 Fed. Reg. 5411, 5413 (Jan. 18, 2001). We created two
illustrative plans, each drawn using a least-change approach
involving the exchange of very few Census blocks and resulting in
little to no impact on the boundaries of the benchmark plan.
Both plans remain within the county's deviation goals, avoid
pitting incumbents against each other, and bring the boundaries
of the district into greater conformance with the boundaries of
the benchmark plan. And in each plan, the black total and voting
age populations is maintained and increased in District 3 and the
retrogression is eliminated. In one plan, the black population
percentage in District 3 is 56.8 percent and in the other it is
57.1. In fact, given the demographics in the area, it was
virtually impossible to devise an illustrative plan which did not
increase the district's black population percentage.
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); 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 with regard to discriminatory
purpose in this instance. Therefore, on behalf of the Attorney
General, I must object to the 2001 redistricting plan.
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 change neither has 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 submitted plan continues 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 Cumberland
County plans to take concerning this matter. If you have any
questions, you should call Ms. Maureen Riordan (202-353-2087), an
attorney in the Voting Section.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General