Justice Department Says Blacks in N.C. Town Can’t Get Elected Without Democratic Party Label

October 20, 2009 - 8:50 PM
The attorney general refuses to approve a request by a North Carolina town seeking to have nonpartisan elections.
(CNSNews.com) - The U.S. Department of Justice is refusing to allow the town of Kinston, N.C., to hold nonpartisan local elections on the grounds that African Americans cannot win election without being listed as Democrats on the ballot. 

In a letter sent Saturday by to Kinston City Attorney James P. Cauley III, the Justice Department stated: “Removing the partisan cue in municipal elections will, in all likelihood, eliminate the single factor that allows black candidates to be elected to office.” 

The department Tuesday also refused to answer questions from CNSNews.com about the letter.

Kinston voters last year approved changing city council elections to a nonpartisan basis, similar to thousands of other towns in the U.S. – without mention of party affiliation. 

The letter, written by Acting Assistant Attorney General Loretta King, flatly asserts that the decision was made on the assumption that the town’s citizens use race as the primary consideration in voting. 

“In Kinston elections,” King wrote, “voters base their choice more on the race of a candidate rather than his or her political affiliation, and without either the appeal to party loyalty or the ability to vote a straight ticket, the limited remaining support from white voters for a black Democratic candidate will diminish even more.” 

The Justice Department analysis was based partly on the opinions of local officials in Kinston, the letter said. 

“Numerous elected municipal and county officials confirm the results of our statistical analysis,” she wrote, “that a majority of white Democrats support white Republicans over black Democrats in Kinston city elections. At the same time, they also acknowledged that a small group of white Democrats maintain strong party allegiance and vote along party lines, regardless of the race of the candidate.”

However, King asserted that even whites who currently vote for black candidates would abandon them in nonpartisan elections.

“Many of these white crossover voters are simply using straight-ticket voting. As a result, while the racial identity of the candidate greatly diminishes the supportive effect of the partisan cue, it does not totally eliminate it. It follows, therefore, that the elimination of party affiliation on the ballot will likely reduce the ability of blacks to elect candidates of choice,” King concluded.

The letter incensed one congressman, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa), who condemned it as “unconstitutional” and “racist.”

“This policy of the Department of Justice that prohibits them from removing the partisan label on a local candidate’s name is done for reasons purely of race and the policy is, on it’s face, racist,” Rep. King – no relation to the asst. attorney general – claimed.

“It’s outrageously offensive,” said the congressman, “and it should be offensive to, especially, African Americans to be pandered to in that way, and to have the Department of Justice tell them that they don’t have the ability to discern who to vote for by name, that they can only discern that if it’s party – and it presumes that all African Americans are Democrats.”

“By any legitimate measure, this is an unconstitutional decision on the part of the Department of Justice,” the congressman said in an interview with CNSNews.com. 

The Justice Department, meanwhile, refused to answer questions about the letter that CNSNews.com submitted Tuesday – including questions about the basis for the decision and what empirical evidence – i.e., hard data – the department relied upon for its conclusions that whites in Kinston vote based on race. 

Other questions CNSNews.com posed included whether the Justice Department was asserting that African-Americans only vote Democratic and whether it was ethical for the federal government to take an action which at least appears to be designed to benefit a particular political party. 

Justice Department spokesman Alejandro Miyar refused to provide any specifics.

“The letter speaks for the department's position,” Miyar wrote in an e-mail response. “We decline to address your questions in specific.”

Calls to local officials in Kinston were not returned.

Kinston is in a portion of North Carolina which had been found to violate the civil rights of blacks under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Under the law, to change its method of voting, the city is required to submit proof to the attorney general “that the proposed voting change does not deny or abridge the right to vote on account of race, color or membership in a language minority group.