Pro Bono Clients Settle Lawsuit Challenging Dilution of African American Votes

August 24, 2017

Two pro bono clients of Cleary Gottlieb, Patterson Harkavy LLP and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, reached a settlement in an important voting-rights challenge.

The settlement was reached with the Jones County Board of Commissioners; individual Commissioners Frank Emory, W. Michael Haddock, Zack A. Koonce III, Sondra Ipock-Riggs and Joseph F. Wiggins; the Jones County Board of Elections; Chairman of the Board of Elections Will H. Brock; and Jones County Manager Franky J. Howard.

The lawsuit, filed in February 2017 in the Eastern District of North Carolina, alleged that African American voters in Jones County, North Carolina, were denied an equal opportunity to elect candidates of choice to the Jones County Board of Commissioners in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, leading to the systemic neglect of the needs and concerns of the African American community.

The electoral system in Jones County elected five members at-large to four-year terms on the Jones County Board of Commissioners. The at-large election method diluted the vote of the African American voters in Jones County.  As a result, no African American candidate had been elected to the Board of Commissioners since 1994. Even when African American candidates of choice made it through the primaries, they were always defeated by white opponents in the general elections, due to a lack of crossover voting by white voters, despite receiving overwhelming support from African American voters.

On August 23, 2017, District Judge Louise Wood Flanagan of the Eastern District of North Carolina approved a consent decree and judgment submitted by the parties implementing a new electoral plan for seven single-member districts in Jones County for the election of County Commissioners. The new electoral plan, which will go into effect for the 2018 primary and general elections, includes two single-member districts in which African American voters constitute a majority of the voting-age population. This new electoral plan will remedy the Section 2 Voting Rights Act violation and ensure that the African American community in Jones County is able to elect representatives to the Board of Commissioners who will advocate for their needs and interests.

This victory has been featured in a Law360 Pro Bono Spotlight article.