Very soon many people in America will be celebrating Juneteenth and the symbolic end of slavery in America 150 years ago in Galveston.
Some of you may be aware the City Council appointed Charter Review Committee voted on May 4th to propose the city charter be changed from a 61 single member district election system to a 421 hybrid atlarge system in Galveston. This is similar to what happened in Pasadena last year and is now in federal court.
You may recall the Department of Justice under Presidents Clinton, Bush, and Obama rejected three previous attempts to do the same thing proposed on May 4th in the 63 Charter Review Committee vote (6 Anglo males v. 2 AfricanAmerican males and 1 Anglo female.) The last rejection from the Department of Justice on October 3, 2011 stated: “A voting change has a discriminatory effect if it will lead to retrogression in the ability of language or racial minorities ‘with respect to their effective exercise of the electoral franchise.’” (Beer v. United States, 425 U.S. 130, 141 (1976) The voting change at issue must be measured against the benchmark practice to determine whether the ability of minority voters to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice will be “augmented, diminished, or not affected by the change affecting voting.”
Under the existing method of voting, minority voters currently have the ability to elect a candidate of choice in three of the six single member districts. In contrast, this ability would exist only in two of four districts and in neither of the two atlarge positions under the proposed system. Indeed, in the course of our investigation, the city acknowledged that the proposed method of election will decrease the number of minority abilitytoelect districts.
It is our understanding that under Sec. 2 of the Voting Rights Act there is a nationwide prohibition against not only electionrelated practices and procedures that are intended to be racially discriminatory, but also those that are shown to have a racially discriminatory result. The United States and private parties may file a lawsuit against a redistricting plan alleging that it violates Sec. 2.
Before our Juneteenth celebration begins you might read and consider a letter sent by local organizations to City Attorney Palumbo on August 22, 2013.
You can find it online at http://gulfcoastinterfaith.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/CO_objection_to_changing_COG_to_421_election_system_42213.23573343.pdf
In the coming days as you participate in our local Juneteenth celebration activities, we hope everyone will reflect on whether the efforts of the Charter Review Committee and the City Council is any different from the three previous failed attempts to diminish the voting rights of the minority community in Galveston.
We hope thoughtful leaders of good faith and wisdom will reflect on what’s going on.