WASHINGTON – The Justice Department today announced the filing of a consent decree settling a Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the town of Lake Park, Fla., that, subject to court approval, will alter the method of electing the town commission. The town will discontinue use of its current at-large method of electing the commissioners. Lake Park will use a limited voting plan beginning with the March 2010 elections.
The lawsuit, filed on March 31, 2009, in federal court in Miami, challenged the at-large method of electing the Lake Park Town Commission on the ground that it dilutes the voting strength of African-American citizens in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Although African-Americans comprise over 38 percent of the town’s total citizen voting-age population, black voters usually have been unsuccessful in electing their candidate of choice and no black candidate for the commission has ever won an election since Lake Park was incorporated in 1923.
"All Americans cherish the right to have our voices heard in the voting booth, and the Voting Rights Act continues to be a vital tool allowing us to protect that right," said Thomas E. Perez, Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division. "We are pleased that the Lake Park Town Commission has agreed to adopt a voting plan that will provide African-American citizens with the opportunity to elect commissioners of their choice."
U.S. Attorney Jeffrey H. Sloman for the Southern District of Florida stated, "In the consent decree, the town of Lake Park conceded that there is a factual and legal basis for concluding that the current at-large method of electing the town’s commissioners results in an unfair dilution of the African-American vote. Today’s consent decree is a first step to remedying that situation and providing equal access to the political process."
Racially polarized voting patterns prevail in Lake Park elections. The department was prepared to prove through an analysis of statistical and non-statistical evidence, including past town election returns and voting patterns, that the African-American population of Lake Park is politically cohesive and that white persons usually vote sufficiently as a bloc to defeat the preferred candidate of African-American voters.
In the consent decree, the town conceded that there is a basis in both fact and law for believing that the current at-large method of electing commissioners, under all the circumstances, results in African-Americans having less opportunity to participate in the town’s political process and to elect representatives of their choice.
Under the limited voting plan systems, all four commission seats will be up for election and voters will be limited to casting a vote for only one candidate. The four candidates receiving the highest number of votes will be elected to the Lake Park Town Commission for a three-year term. The limited voting plan is in effect permanently, unless changed by the terms in the agreement and in compliance with Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
Complaints about discriminatory voting practices may be reported to the Justice Department at 1-800-253-3931. More information about the Voting Rights Act and other federal voting laws is available on the Department of Justice Web site at http://www.usdoj.gov/crt/voting.