DETROIT -- The Justice Department is suing a Detroit suburb, alleging that it violates the Voting Rights Act by denying black residents an equal opportunity to elect city council members of their choice.
The lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday in Detroit, says no black candidate has ever served on the Eastpointe City Council and that white voters have consistently opposed and defeated black voters’ preferred black candidates. It seeks a court order that would force Eastpointe to change how its city council is elected. It currently consists of the mayor and four council members who serve staggered four-year terms.
Of the 32,000 people living in Eastpointe in 2010, nearly 10,000 were black, according to the U.S. Census. Current estimates place the city’s black population at closer to 40 percent.
Eastpointe’s black voters consistently vote for black city council and school board candidates, however none of them have ever been elected, the lawsuit contends.
A review of elections shows “the black population of Eastpointe is politically cohesive and that the white population votes sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat the preferred candidate of black voters,” the lawsuit argues.
If Eastpointe had four voting districts, the black community is “sufficiently numerous and geographically compact to constitute a majority of the citizen voting-age population in one single-member district,” the lawsuit contends.
“Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act prohibits practices such as Eastpointe’s at-large City Council system where they improperly dilute the ability of citizens to elect the candidates of their choice,” Barbara McQuade, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said Wednesday in a news release. “We filed this lawsuit to ensure that all voters in Eastpointe have a fair opportunity to participate in their local government.”
Eastpointe City Manager Steve Duchane told The Associated Press on Wednesday that city officials have known since November that the lawsuit was coming and that they hope to enter into a consent judgment with the Justice Department to settle it.
Duchane, who is named in the lawsuit along with the city council, said the city charter requires at-large elections, in which voters throughout the city vote for all council seats rather than voters electing members by districts. He said a charter change would have to go before voters in the fall.
“We don’t necessarily have a philosophical difference,” he said.