The NAACP Legal Defense Fund conducted the first of its planned investigatory/fact-finding site visits to Columbus, on February 22-23, 2018, to further investigate its concerns the Columbus’s at-large elections may violate Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. On March 29th, the LDF issued a follow-up letter to Council President Shannon Hardin (Ltr. to Columbus City Council. 3.29.18 (final) ), indicating that after meeting with “over two dozen Columbus residents across the city” the LDF retains its “serious concerns that an at-large system in which every Black councilmember for decades has been elected as an incumbent only after an initial appointment by the Council denies Black voters of the equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates to the Council as Section 2 requires.”
The LDF highlighted areas of “the lack of responsiveness by the Council to longstanding policy issues, including neighborhood safety concerns, specific demands to address the killing of Black people by Columbus’s police and other police misconduct, housing instability,income inequality, high infant mortality, and preservation of historic housing. Residents are incredulous that councilmembers are not speaking publicly about the killings of Black people in Columbus at the hands of the police.” The LDF also says “residents also complain of the Council’s failure to facilitate development in Black communities …”
The LDF also reiterated its concerns with the at-large electoral system that Council President Shannon Hardin has advanced to the May ballot as Issue 3, saying the proposal “may create the perception that voters will have a representative chosen by a neighborhood community, but the maintenance of the at-large voting scheme for all members of the City Council will likely continue to diminish the voices of Black voters in Columbus.”
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund, founded in 1946, is most well-known for ending Jim Crow in the landmark Brown v. the Board of Education case litigated by LDF founder and then Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Beyond that watershed in American history, the LDF has continued to advocate for equal opportunity for all Americans, and has been deeply involved in voting rights issues across the country. In Dillard v. Crenshaw County, Alabama, the LDF’s successful litigation led to 183 jurisdictions throughout Alabama abandoning their discriminatory at-large methods of election. In Georgia State Conference of the NAACP v. Fayette County Board of Commissioners, the LDF successfully challenged the at-large electoral method to the county board of commissioners and board of education in Fayette County, GA. The LDF was also successful in a 2017 case in Pasadena, CA addressing the dilution of Latino voting strength in an at-large city council, with the court ordering the city to get federal pre-clearance for any other electoral system changes through 2023.