When Joseph Pillette tries to explain the inequities he sees because of the lack of Black and other minority voices on the city council in Abbeville, Louisiana, he points to the intersection of State Street and Graceland Avenue.
“If you take a left off State Street, you have to slow down immediately,” Pillette said. “By the time you go two blocks, you have to slow down to like 5 miles per hour or else you will hurt your car.”
A right turn leads to a completely different experience. “They did an overlay of the street,” Pillette said. “It’s a good road.”
The right turn leads through a predominantly white neighborhood, while the left turn goes through a predominantly Black part of the same majority-white city council district.
Local advocates are seeking change. But the fact is, the current voting map for the city council dilutes the political power of Black residents. Now, during the once-a-decade redistricting process, the council is poised to adopt a new map that keeps the status quo.
Earlier this month, the Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF) and the Vermillion NAACP Branch (NAACP) urged the Abbeville City Council to delay adopting the map until it has time to seek and consider public input.
As it stands, 38.5% of the city’s voting-age residents are Black, as are nearly 43% of the residents overall. But those Black residents are mostly packed into one of four single-member council districts, leaving the others with majority-white populations. The council also has a fifth member who is elected on an at-large basis. The result is one Black member of the council.
“The Abbeville City Council has an affirmative obligation to comply with the Voting Rights Act during the redistricting process,” said Liza Weisberg, a staff attorney with the SPLC’s Voting Rights Practice Group. “It is not difficult to do so.”
The letter from the SPLC, LDF and the NAACP urges the council to eliminate the at-large district and create a second single-member, majority-Black district. The letter also presents an alternative plan that would allow the council to create a second majority-Black district while retaining the at-large seat. Both plans would likely bring the city council into compliance with the Voting Rights Act, which outlaws discrimination in voting.
“We presented the city council with two examples of maps that respect traditional redistricting principles, include two majority-Black districts and ensure that Black voters would have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice,” Weisberg said. “But the council appears intent on ignoring its obligations under the Voting Rights Act and rushing to enact a new map with just one majority-Black district in a city where Black people make up almost 40% of the voting-age population.”
The city council introduced its proposed map during the last council meeting on Dec. 8 and plans to vote to approve it at the next council meeting on Dec. 21. The council will allow public input only once, during the Dec. 21 meeting.
“Because the council plans to vote on the map on the same night that it will permit public comment, it is difficult to imagine how the council could implement feedback,” Weisberg said.
(Photo Credit: Getty Images)