||U.S. Department of Justice
Civil Rights Division
|Office of the Assistant Attorney General
||Washington, DC 20530
| ||September 28, 2001|
Bruce D. Jones, Jr., Esq.
P.O. Box 690
Eastville, Virginia 23347-0690
Dear Mr. Jones:
This refers to the change in the method of electing the
board of supervisors from six single-member districts to three
double-member districts; the 2001 redistricting plan for the
board of supervisors; the realignment of voting precincts; and
the polling place change for Northampton County, Virginia,
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 July 18, 2001, request for additional information on July
30, 31, and August 2, 2001.
The Attorney General does not interpose any objection to the
polling place change. However, we note that Section 5 expressly
provides that the failure of the Attorney General to object does
not bar subsequent litigation to enjoin the enforcement of the
change. See the Procedures for the Administration of Section 5
(28 C.F.R. 51.41).
With regard to the remaining specified changes, we have
considered carefully the information provided, as well as
information in our files, Census data, and comments from other
interested persons. According to the 2000 Census, Northampton
County has a population of 13,093, of whom 43.1 percent are
black, and 3.5 percent are Hispanic. Since 1990, it appears that
the county's overall population increased by 32 persons.
Our analysis of the county's electoral history indicates
that under the current method of election, which utilizes six
single-member districts, black voters have been able to elect
candidates of their choice to office in three districts.
According to the 2000 Census, Districts 1, 3, and 6 are majority-minority
in total and voting age populations. We note that the county changed its
method of election from three double-member districts to six single-member
districts in 1991, in response to concerns that the three double-member
districts diluted the black vote in the county. Since 1991, black
supervisors have been elected in all three of the majority-minority districts,
and currently represent two districts.
The proposed redistricting plan contains no districts in
which minorities constitute a majority of the voting age
population. One district has a total minority population of 51.9
percent and a minority voting age population of 48.8 percent.
The other two districts have minority voting age populations of
39.3 percent and 43.5 percent. The county maintains that the
change to the three-district system was adopted in order to
facilitate the inclusion of incorporated towns within single
election districts and to make access to polling places more
convenient to voters. According to the submission, the county
determined that it was not feasible to maintain six districts and
to include towns with recent annexations wholly within single
However, our analysis does not support the county's position
that maintaining six districts was not feasible. As provided for
in the Department's Guidance Concerning Redistricting and
Retrogression Under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, 66 Fed.
Reg. 5412, at 5413, (Jan. 18, 2001), we developed an illustrative
six-district plan as part of our review of the county's
submission. The plan is not significantly different from the
existing benchmark plan. Under the illustrative plan, each town
is wholly contained within a single district, the county's
redistricting criteria are substantially met, and the one-person/one-vote
requirement is satisfied.
Our analysis further reveals that the county failed to
seriously consider any alternative plans that would not violate
the non-retrogression requirement of Section 5. It appears that
the county gave little or no serious consideration to the impact
on the ability of minority voters to elect candidates of their
choice, when it replaced a plan in which minorities constitute
voting age majorities in three districts with a plan under which
minorities of voting age do not constitute a voting age majority
in any district. For reasons not fully explained, a six-district
plan that had been prepared by the county was never completed.
The county maintains that the proposed plan is not
retrogressive with regard to minority representation because
there are currently two minority supervisors on the board, and
that there were two on the board prior to the 1991 redistricting
plan. This position misstates the standard that the county must
meet under Section 5. Under the last precleared benchmark plan,
against which the proposed plan must be measured, there are three
districts, not two, in which minorities constitute a majority of
the total and voting age populations, with a history of electing
candidates preferred by minority voters in each of the three
The county suggests that the minority community, with the
use of single-shot voting, could still elect three candidates of
choice under the proposed plan. Our analysis, however, does not
indicate that minority voters will continue to have the same
opportunity under the proposed plan that they currently have to
elect even two candidates of choice. In our view, the available
information concerning voting patterns within the county suggests
the presence of racially polarized voting. An examination of the
populations of the proposed districts indicates that it is
unlikely that the minority community would be able to elect two,
much less, three candidates of choice.
Given the demographics of the county and apparent voting
patterns within it, the jurisdiction has not carried its burden
to show that the proposed change in the method of election and
the redistricting plan will not significantly reduce the ability
of minority voters to elect candidates of their choice to the
board of supervisors.
Under these circumstances, I am unable to conclude as I must
under Section 5, that the county has met its burden of
demonstrating that the submitted changes have neither a
discriminatory purpose nor a discriminatory effect. Georgia v.
United States, 411 U.S. 526 (1973); see also 28 C.F.R 51.52.
Therefore, on behalf of the Attorney General, I must object to
the change in the method of electing the board of supervisors
from six single-member districts to three double-member districts
and the 2001 redistricting plan for the board of supervisors of
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 submitted plan continues to be legally unenforceable. Clark
v. Roemer, 500 U.S. 646 (1991); 28 C.F.R. 51.10.
The Attorney General will make no determination regarding
the submitted realignment of voting precincts because it is
dependant upon the objected to change in the method of election
and the redistricting plan.
To enable us to meet our responsibility to enforce the
Voting Rights Act, please inform us of the action Northampton
County plans to take concerning this matter. If you have any
questions, you should call Mr. Robert P. Lowell (202-514-3539),
an attorney in the Voting Section.
Ralph F. Boyd, Jr.
Assistant Attorney General
Civil Rights Division