The Justice Department has filed a lawsuit to challenge the at-large method of electing the city council of Eastpointe, Michigan. The complaint alleges that the election system in Eastpointe violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act by denying black citizens in the city the equal opportunity to elect representatives of their choice.
The lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, follows an extensive review of the city’s electoral practices, history and current conditions, guided by extensive precedent applying Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. Among other important factors highlighted in the case law, the lawsuit alleges that Eastpointe has racially polarized voting patterns, with white voters consistently opposing and defeating the preferred candidates of Eastpointe’s sizable black community. Although black residents comprise roughly one-third of the electorate and consistently support black candidates for local office, no black individual has ever served on the Eastpointe City Council. With Eastpointe’s current system, voting patterns combined with other local factors dilute the black community’s voice and lead to a discriminatory result.
The complaint also alleges that changing the method of voting – for example, by electing each councilmember from a district – could create an equitable opportunity for black voters to elect a candidate of their choice to the Eastpointe City Council. The lawsuit seeks a federal court order implementing a new method of electing the Eastpointe City Council.
“Federal law seeks to protect diverse communities from discriminatory systems that weaken the power of the franchise,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Civil Rights Division. “The Justice Department hopes to work cooperatively with Eastpointe to ensure that all communities enjoy equitable opportunity in our elections.”
“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,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade of the Eastern District of Michigan. “We filed this lawsuit to ensure that all voters in Eastpointe have a fair opportunity to participate in their local government.”
The Justice Department continues to have positive discussions with the city of Eastpointe and remains hopeful that a settlement will be reached. As Eastpointe’s next regularly scheduled city council election is set for November 2017, the department’s filing was necessary to preserve the ability of a court to hear this case in a timely manner.