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Voting Rights

National NAACP to join parish remap challenge.  St. Landry Parish  reapportionment plan  to stop the April 5 election of School Board members.

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National NAACP to join parish remap challenge
Alain A. de la Villesbret
Posted on January 26, 2003

The St. Landry Parish chapter of the NAACP has called in the big guns to shoot down a parish reapportionment plan and stop the April 5 election of School Board members.

"I just got off the phone with the national NAACP office in Baltimore," said NAACP Chapter 6088 president Ray Bellard Friday afternoon, "and they have agreed to help us. They will be filing a suit in federal court early next week. They are excited about the case and are assigning two lawyers to work with local counsel."

Bellard asserts that the plan violates the Votings Rights Act of 1965 because minorities are not given fair representation on the 13-seat St. Landry Parish School Board.

The plan also afffects the St. Landry Parish Police Jury districts.

At present, three blacks representing three majority-minority districts sit on the board. Bellard insists that the black population of the parish is 42 to 44 percent. The local chapter is pushing a plan that creates five minority-majority districts consisting of 60 percent or more blacks each and one split district.

"Three districts does not represent 42 percent," Bellard said. "I would have hoped they would have had a change of heart, but when it comes down to representation, they (the School Board) look the other way."

The existing plan has received approval by the board and Section 5 pre-clearance by the United States Department of Justice. Qualifying for the April election begins Feb. 12.

"Our plan follows all of the redistricting criteria under the Voting Rights Act," said Mike Hefner, chief demographer with Geographic Planning and Demographic Service, the firm hired by the School Board after the 2000 Census showed population shifts necessitating reapportionment. " They (Chapter 6088) keep saying three districts, but under our plan, we have created a fourth majority-minority district. Districts 2, 3 and 10 have been traditionally minority-majority, and we have added District 1."

He added that the voting age population of blacks in St. Landry Parish is 38.7 percent, and total minority population is 42 percent.

This could mean the second postponement of the School Board election, which was scheduled Oct. 12, 2002. It was moved to April of this year due to Chapter 6088's complaint of the newly drawn districts lodged with Attorney General John Ashcroft on March 5, 2002. The DOJ granted clearance in September, but it was after the August qualifying date, thus the election was moved to the next possible election date.

Specific objections stated by the local chapter are the plan:

n packs too many blacks into black districts;

n has as its main purpose the protection of white districts and the tenure of white school board members,

n dilutes the minority voting strength,

n does not reflect the percentage of blacks in the parish population,

n does not provide equitable percentage representation on the board,

n makes a mockery of the one man one vote democratic concept,

n "is a classic example of gradualism through tokenism which will never produce justice and equality for the minorities".

"That does not make any sense to me at all," Hefner said. "The DOJ in essence stated that they had no reason to reject the plan and offered no opposition to it.

"What they want," Hefner said of the chapter, "is for the School Board districts to be reapportioned primarily based on race, which the Supreme Court ruled was unconstitutional. Changing the districts based solely on race would violate several reapportionment criteria."

The United States Supreme Court ruled in Case No. 92-357, Shaw V Reno, argued April 20, 1993, decided June 28, 1993, on appeal from the United States District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, that changing of districts based solely on race "created an unconstitutional racial gerrymander in violation of, among other things, the Fourteenth Amendment."

Hefner said that other criteria redistricting has to take into consideration includes:

n no retrogression of minority districts, must maintain population levels within districts that are not below the previous census;

n maintaining as much as possible traditional boundaries,

n getting districts within five percent of each other in terms of population splits,

n grouping geographic and issue needs of a population together, an effort to create political homogeneous,

n keeping precincts splits to a minimum as directed by state law.

Hefner has 12 years experience designing redistricting plans for 55 jurisdictions which have received approval on the federal level. He also has testified as an expert witness in federal and state court on behalf of the secretary of state, the commissioner of elections and the attorney general.

"I have never had a plan rejected or overturned in court," Hefner said, "but tomorrow is another day."

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