(Columbus, Ohio) The NAACP Legal Defense Fund (“LDF”), the nation’s oldest and most renowned advocate for legal equality, has again weighed in on Columbus elections in a December 15th letter from LDF Senior Counsel Leah Aden to Columbus City Council President Zach Klein, cautioning him that Klein’s response to the LDF’s initial letter was insufficient, and the LDF “remains deeply concerned that Columbus’s at-large voting method fails to provide an equal opportunity for the city’s Black voters to elect council member of their choice, which the Voting Rights Act of 1965 guarantees.” (LDF Reply to Klein)
The LDF rejected Klein’s expression of the “diversity” of council in his short response to the Aden’s heavily footnoted, 7 page November 19, 2017 letter expressing concern that Columbus’s at-large elections unlawfully disempower the Black community.
In responding to Klein’s comment about the racial diversity of the council, while noting that all Black council members have been initially appointed, the LDF cautioned that “the U.S. Supreme Court has warned that unconstitutional racial stereotyping can occur when officials assume of racial minorities that ‘they think alike, share the same political interests, and prefer the same candidates.’ (Shaw v. Reno, 509 U.S. 630, 631 (1993).” The LDF announced its intent to come to Columbus for meetings in 2018.
At-large elections are often found to be unlawfully discriminatory under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because they can dilute minority votes in a larger pool of majority votes – in violation of “equal protection” guarantee of the 14th amendment to the Constitution. In an FAQ issued to Columbus in the wake of the defeat of the Issue 1 citizen referendum in August 2016, the LDF said:
“the Voting Rights Act forbids the use of any electoral scheme, such as the at-large method of election, that submerges the votes of people of color in elections that a white majority of voters control… although at-large voting is becoming rarer an rarer, in part due to the advocacy of LDF and other civil rights organizations, such discriminatory election systems remain in some places in our democracy.”
Jonathan Beard, Treasurer of Everyday People for Positive Change, says “we believe all Columbus voters deserve the full protection of federal voting law and the equal protections guaranteed by the 14th amendment to the constitution. Fifty years after Selma, serious questions are being raised about the purposeful political exclusion of the Black community in Columbus, OH. For too long, basic voting rights have been artfully dodged by Columbus leaders, who have used the appointment process to select African Americans to manufacture a “diverse” council in this majority White elector at-large voting scheme, while paternalistically subverting the voting power of the Columbus Black community to elect candidates of its own choosing. Sometimes it takes a credible outside expert to see the obvious, and we are glad the LDF has seen through this insulting façade of political inclusion that is stealing power from Black voters. We look forward to the coming fact-finding meetings with the LDF here in January, so that all of Columbus can be fairly represented in our political system.”