ACLU Charges Race Discrimination in Florida County Election Methods

Affiliate: ACLU of Florida
May 12, 2000 12:00 am

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FT. MYERS, FL–The Voting Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union today filed a lawsuit in Florida challenging a racially discriminatory method of electing members of County Commissioners and the County School Board.

The ACLU lawsuit charges that the present method of electing the Glades County Board of County Commission and Glades School Board deliberately dilutes the votes of minority populations and prevents the election of black political officers. No African-American has ever been elected to any county-wide office in the entire history of Glades County.

The ACLU says the at-large voting procedure violates the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The organization is asking the Court to order new procedures for the election of Commission and School Board members.

“African-Americans in Glades County bear the effects of discrimination in such areas as education, employment and health,” said Howard Simon, Executive Director of the ACLU of Florida. “This history hinders the ability of African-Americans to effectively participate in the political process.”

According to the 1990 U.S. Census, the total voting age population for the county is 5,735, of which 4,771 (83.19 percent) are White and 552 (9.63 percent) are African-American. There has been a history of official discrimination against African-Americans in Glades County, including discrimination against African-Americans attempting to exercise their right to vote.

Both the Glades County Commission and the County School Board are composed of five members each and are elected at-large from residency districts. This county-wide at-large voting system allows every voter in the County to cast a ballot for each Commission and School Board candidate, effectively diluting the votes of the minority African-American population in districts where minority voters are concentrated.

The ACLU lawsuit argues that these at-large election structures were adopted and are being maintained purposely to dilute and minimize the votes of African-Americans.

“The holding of at-large elections for both the Glades County Board of County Commissioners and School Board unconstitutionally and illegally dilutes the votes of the County’s African-American minority,” said Cristina Correia, ACLU Voting Rights Project Counsel.

The case was filed in U.S. District Court in Ft. Myers on behalf of Billie Thompson and Patricia Brown, African-American voters of Glades County.

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