Section 5(a) of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (42 U.S.C. § 1973c(a)) requires "certain (mostly Southern) states to get "pre-clearance" of their voting-rules changes from the Justice Department." Such pre-clearance "is granted only if the change neither 'has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color.'" Northwest Austin Municp. Util. Dist. No. One v. Holder, 08-322 (June 22, 2009). Although a majority of both residents and registered voters in Kinston are black, North Carolina is a "Section 5" state, meaning that "before nonpartisan elections could be implemented, the city had to get approval from the Justice Department."
On August 17th, the Obama Justice Department denied the request:
Black voters have had limited success in electing candidates of choice during recent municipal elections. The success that they have achieved has resulted from cohesive support for candidates during the Democratic primary (where black voters represent a larger percentage of the electorate), combined with crossover voting by whites in the general election. It is the partisan makeup of the general electorate that results in enough white cross-over to allow the black community to elect a candidate of choice.This is multiply outrageous:
This small, but critical, amount of white crossover votes results from the party affiliation of black-preferred candidates, most if not all of whom have been black. Numerous elected municipal and county officials confirm the results of our statistical analyses that a majority of white Democrats support white Republicans over black Democrats in Kinston city elections. At the same time, they also acknowledged that a small group of white Democrats maintain strong party allegiance and will continue to vote along party lines, regardless of the race of the candidate. Many of these white crossover voters are simply using straight-ticket voting. As a result, while the racial identity of the candidate greatly diminishes the supportive effect of the partisan cue, it does not totally eliminate it.
It follows, therefore, that the elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice. Black candidates will likely lose a significant amount of crossover votes due to the high degree of racial polarization present in city elections. Without party loyalty available to counter-balance the consistent trend of racial bloc voting, blacks will face greater difficulty winning general elections. . .
Removing the partisan cue in municipal elections will, in all likelihood, eliminate the single factor that allows black candidates to be elected to office. In Kinston elections, voters base their choice more on the race of a candidate rather than his or her political affiliation, and without either the appeal to party loyalty or the ability to vote a straight ticket, the limited remaining support from white voters for a black Democratic candidate will diminish even more. And given that the city's electorate is overwhelmingly Democratic, while the motivating factor for this change may be partisan, the effect will be strictly racial.
- Assumption electorate votes by race: Are they saying whites must be fooled into voting for black candidates by calling them Democrats? Or that blacks can't be trusted to uphold their self interest absent a party affiliation? Either assumption is insulting. Dubious too: although whites comprise nearly 74 percent of North Carolina's population, Barack Obama won the state last year.
- Inconsistent assumption electorate votes by party: Right after presuming voting by color, the DoJ elevates "the partisan cue" to "the single factor." Which is it? It can't be both.
- Factually challenged: As National Review's Hans von Spakovsky observed:
[O]n the town’s five-member city council (elected at large), two of the councilmen are black and all five are Democrats. Although the current mayor is white, the longtime prior mayor was black.
Thus, there no evidence whatsoever that blacks face any barriers to registration and voting. And in an election in which blacks comprised the majority of registered voters and turned out in droves to support Barack Obama’s candidacy, the referendum passed with a [nearly] two-to-one margin (although you would never know that from reading the Justice Department’s objection).
- Race equals result: Even were it true that blacks weren't electable in Kinston, the letter complains of limits on black voters' "candidates of choice." In other words, as Ben Conery says in the Washington Times, the DoJ presupposes that the sole legitimate choice for blacks are other blacks. This is burning the village in order to save it: in order to prevent discrimination, the Administration must intervene to guarantee discrimination.
- Irrelevance to discrimination: The Voting Rights Act was designed to combat electoral systems that had either a discriminatory purpose or discriminatory effect on the right to vote. Non-partisan elections only flunk that test, as James Taranto says, by "equating civil rights with partisanship," which is outside the scope of the law. Or was DoJ swayed by the fact that Kinston's county, Lenoir, went for McCain by a whopping 23 votes. Has voting Republican become prima facie evidence of discrimination?
We're witnessing the death of popular sovereignty. Progressives prefer rule by an un-elected bureaucratic elite in Washington. Or, for the current Administration, simply ensuring Democrats always win.