Cumberland County Commission Districts Are Unconstitutional

That’s a bold headline, I know. Here’s why it’s true:

One Person, One Vote

Cumberland County’s Commission is strange in the way it elects its members. The Current Districts were selected in 2011. Here’s the map:

  • Two individuals are elected out of District 1. District 1 had 70,965 registered voters in 2011.
  • Three individuals are elected out of District 2. District 2 had 121,545 registered voters in 2011.
  • Two members are elected “at-large.” Everyone in the County gets to vote for these members.

This one is pretty obvious. If you live in District 1, you only get to vote for 4 out of the 7 members of the commission. If you live in District 2, you get to vote for 5 out of the 7 members.

This violates the principle of “one-person, one-vote” that was established by our Supreme Court several decades ago. I’m not going to give you a legal treatise on the subject, but the gist is this: districts should be formulated in such a way to ensure that everyone’s vote counts the same.

It’s an equal protection problem when a system is set up to give certain people more “say” in their elected body. Right now, it’s impossible to ignore the fact that a voter in District 2 has more power than a voter in District 1 in Cumberland County.

Racial Gerrymander

These Districts are “odd” for a reason. They were set up this way to ensure we had at least two minority members on the County Commission:

  • District 1 is 58% Black (registered voters). The two current commissioners from District 1 are black.
  • District 2 is 60% White (registered voters). The three current commissioners from District 2 are white.

Click “Download” to read the County Commission’s Own Data from 2011. “Alternative A” was chosen:

You’ll see that Cumberland County literally drew its commission district boundaries along racial lines. Nothing else, but race, seemed to matter.

Those in charge selected this map in an attempt to comply with the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act. They wanted to ensure that minorities had an opportunity to get elected. This requirement is no longer law. It was struck down, one year later in 2012 in the case of Shelby County v. Holder. The Supreme Court held that states and counties (like Cumberland) no longer had to ask permission from the Justice Department when making changes to their election systems.

Cooper v. Harris

In 2011, at the same time Cumberland was drawing its commission districts, Republicans in the North Carolina legislature gerrymandered the living daylights out of our state’s congressional districts. Republicans “packed” African Americans into districts to ensure Republicans would win the majority of the seats. They succeeded.

The plans were challenged, and struck down.

The Supreme Court held that it was unconstitutional to draw districts on racial lines in the absence of a compelling government interest that was narrowly tailored to achieve that interest. Following the Voting Rights Act is a compelling interest but you have to show that minorities have a history of losing before you pack them into their “special district.” The map-makers hadn’t done this, so they lost.

Breakdown

That’s a lot of law summarized and condensed into a blog post. All you really need to know is this: times have changed, and the law has evolved with the times. Cumberland County’s election system hasn’t.

Charles Evans, an African American, recently won an at-large seat on the Cumberland County Commission. African Americans have won multiple county-wide judicial races as of late, and once everyone is sworn in, the Fayetteville City Council will be made of 7 African Americans and 2 Whites.

In short, we shouldn’t racially gerrymander in Cumberland County. It’s not needed. It’s a vestige of the past, and it further factions our community, increasing racial tensions. More importantly, it’s unconstitutional.

These maps are ripe for a judicial challenge. If they are not challenged, they will be re-drawn in 2021, and when that happens, they should be drawn fairly and give every citizen of Cumberland County an equal say.


Note: Thanks to City Councilman Ted Mohn for drawing attention to this issue.

Turnout and Progress

A random sampling of the turnout from Tuesday’s Municipal Elections in North Carolina:

Durham County: 18.32% Turnout

  • Durham has “at-large” seats on its City Council

Wake County: 13.25% Turnout

  • Raleigh has “at-large” seats on its City Council (not on ballot Tuesday)

Mecklenburg County: 17.05% Turnout

  • Charlotte has “at-large” seats on its City Council

Guilford County: 17.93% Turnout

  • Greensboro and High Point have “at-large” seats on their City Councils.

New Hanover: 17.93% Turnout

  • Wilmington has “at-large” seats on its City Council.

Cumberland County: 9.5% Turnout

  • No “at-large” seats on Fayetteville City Council.
  • Two incumbents lose with vote counts in the hundreds:
  • Myron Pitts calls election results “historic” because minorities and women win. Pitts makes the case against “at-large” seats in the Fayetteville Observer:
  • Pitts credits his brother for leading the charge to eliminate three “at-large” seats in 2001. Pitts said “at large seats concentrated power in the hands of just a few” and the council would “be more representative of our diverse city” if the three at-large seats were eliminated.

A quick summary of the arguments for at-large seats:

  1. The ability of each citizen to vote for more than one member creates more voter “say” in the composition of the council.
  2. More “say” leads to increased election participation, interest, and voter turnout (see all the cities above for proof).
  3. At-large representatives are more responsive to the needs of the entire city and must gain city-wide consensus to lead.

A quick summary of the arguments against at-large seats:

  1. Only rich people can afford to run city-wide. Minorities and women (presumably less affluent) will not win and the Council won’t look like Fayetteville as a whole.

We can keep having the lowest turnout in the state, or we can follow the lead of Durham, Wilmington, Raleigh, Charlotte, Greensboro, and High Point and put some at-large seats back on the council.

Fayetteville has evolved, and African American and women candidates are winning city-wide and county-wide races in record numbers. Pitts should welcome this news. These were historic elections and they demonstrate that fears of rich, white people controlling everything are out-dated.

Progress with the times, Fayetteville. You’re better than 9.5%.

On Eve of Municipal Election, Fayetteville Desires More Choice

The results of our City Council “Make-Up” poll are in. The overwhelming majority of participants support the addition of “at-large” seats to the Fayetteville City Council:

This is not surprising. Right now, each Fayetteville citizen gets to vote for two out of ten decision-makers in City Hall (the Mayor and their particular district’s councilman or woman). To put it a different way, your vote impacts only 20% of your city’s government, and the rest is left to others across town.

Twenty percent doesn’t get you very far, and we’re in a pretty sad state right now. We just had the lowest municipal election turnout in the State of North Carolina, and I doubt we’ll see any kind of sea-change tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow’s election, I won’t be voting. The Mayor and my City Councilman (Johnny Dawkins) are unopposed. There’s been no write-in campaign in my district, unlike District 3. I have no say, besides chirping about it on an internet blog.

I would like some more say, some legitimate say, and it seems from the poll results that many agree with me.

This change would absolutely make a difference. It’s time to put some “at-large” seats on the council. It’s time to get the entire City of Fayetteville involved in choosing its leadership.

The status quo is stagnant.

REMATCH.

If you were reading this blog last year, you’ll note that I covered the Kirk deViere – Wesley Meredith battle for North Carolina’s 19th Senate District extensively.

You could say I know what I’m talking about when it comes to this race. Last year, I publicly predicted each candidate’s share of the vote within .03 of a percentage point, two days before the election. It’s one of the greatest success stories in the history of Cumberland County political punditry.

In all seriousness, it looks like “Senator” Meredith didn’t take kindly to sitting out this last term, and he’s raising money for a rematch:

Someone’s gotta pay for those glossy, glittery ads.

If you’d like to help ensure our mailboxes are painted pink next year, I’m sure Meredith would love to see you at the Cape Fear Botanical Garden.

This “swing” district is a microcosm of the partisan battle going on in this state. The race is worth your attention if you care about politics, at all.

Just be careful this time around. That glitter gets everywhere.

“Write-In Campaign” Gains Traction in City Council Race

The past few articles I’ve written have addressed my desire to bring “at-large” seats to the Fayetteville City Council. Scroll down on the homepage or click here and here for more detail.

One of the main reasons we need this change is the extreme voter apathy surrounding Fayetteville’s City Council elections. A few weeks ago, we had the lowest voter turnout in the entire state of North Carolina for any municipal primary election.

Making matters worse, several of our City Council members are “unopposed” this time around. Early voting is happening now, and election day is less than two weeks away.

The only way these “unopposed” candidates can lose is through a “write-in” campaign from a very organized challenger. Seems impossible doesn’t it? Well, it would be if there was decent voter turnout in these races and we didn’t have Fayetteville chopped up into nine little districts. Instead, the vote count will be in the hundreds instead of the thousands in each race.

The “write-in” opportunity is there for anyone willing to take it. From a political standpoint, it’s a “smart” or “sneaky” path, depending on which way you look at it. Lull the incumbent to sleep so they don’t campaign, gather all your people up and get them to the polls, perhaps in the cover of night. Just make sure they know how to spell your name.

Write In Campaign in District 3

Someone has decided to go all-in on the write-ins in District 3:

Dominique Ashley is hoping that enough voters will write her name on the ballot instead of checking the box for the incumbent, Tisha Waddell.

Ashley’s “write-in” campaign has already gained the support of former City Council member Val Applewhite:

The Fayetteville Observer wrote about the race today. Read John Henderson’s article for some good detail on the candidates themselves.

Mayor Colvin Weighs In

Henderson’s article covering Ashley’s write-in candidacy wasn’t published on the Fayetteville Observer facebook page, a fact that angered the oft-outspoken, local politico, David Guy. Guy took to facebook to vent his frustrations.

In a surprising twist, Mayor Mitch Colvin posted Guy’s criticism to his page this morning:


Break-Down

Applewhite has gone all-in and backed a 24 year old write-in candidate over the incumbent, Tisha Waddell. That’s got to sting a little bit.

Mayor Colvin hasn’t gone that far, but he’s making his voice heard in his own way. If he backed Waddell, he wouldn’t have posted what he posted.

I’m not willing to say that Ashley has a chance in this race, yet, but I’ve got to give it to her. She’s gained more media attention in a few days than most local candidates get in an entire political season, which is pretty good for not even being on the ballot.

Sometimes gambles work.

If you’re in District 3, bring an extra pen with you to the polls.