US Justice Department Meddles in Kinston Elections

Two years ago, the city of Kinston, North Carolina passed legislation via referendum making municipal races non-partisan.  The US Justice Department does not agree with the voters in Kinston that non-partisan elections are a good idea and overturned the results.

In the city, where the population is 2/3 black, the referendum passed with nearly 2/3 of voters voting in favor.  Black voters made up less than half of those voting in three out of the last four elections in Kinston and it is the implied position of the Justice Department that these voter turnout numbers invalidate the election because it is not representative of the population of the municipality.  Principally, the Justice Department argues that because blacks rely on a number of straight Democratic white voters to elect preferred candidates that non-partisan elections will ensure that black candidates do not win.

The position of the US Justice Department is preposterous.  In a free, fair and certified election two years ago, the voters of Kinston decided by a large margin to use the non-partisan election method for the city.  The Justice Department overturned the decision, essentially, because it argues that without partisan elections, blacks will not be able to rely on white Democrats to vote for black candidates and, as a result, those black candidates will not win.

First, the assumption here is that blacks only run as Democrats and that they only vote Democratic.  Another assumption is that voters select their officials on the basis party identification and race and do not take into account the other personal characteristics of the candidates such as integrity and stances on salient issues.  Furthermore, the implicit assumption is that blacks do not vote proportionally to their percentage of the population because of some reason other than the individual decisions of blacks whether to vote.  Perhaps the Justice Department assumes that the people of Kinston are not smart enough to select the best candidate without the aid of party labels; essentially that voters are stupid.

The US Justice Department derived its authority to invalidate the election from the 1965 Voting Rights Act.  The spirit of the legislation is the ensure that no individuals are systematically disenfranchised of their right to vote.  If voters were systematically disenfranchised in Kinston, where is the evidence for these violations?  It appears that the Justice Department has decided that it is necessary to use the legislation to save the voters of Kinston from themselves by overturning the results of a free, fair and certified election.