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Columbus Called Out in NAACP Legal Defense Fund FAQ

Miriam Bowers Abbott Miriam Bowers Abbott Columbus Called Out in NAACP Legal Defense Fund FAQ
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The Legal Defense Fund of the national arm of the NAACP has a mission of advancing racial justice. Its website is crowned with a quotation from the sitting President of the United States, “The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund is simply the best civil rights firm in American History.” Yesterday, that civil rights firm released a FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) document that puts Columbus in the spotlight.

The subject is at-large voting, the process that Columbus employs to determine its city council members. The document highlights Columbus as an example of a city that uses at-large voting, noting that “Fewer and fewer jurisdictions still practice at-large voting. That is because courts and other decision-makers have recognized that discriminatory methods of election, like at-large voting, exacerbate the discrimination that communities of color experience…”

As the practice is used locally, city wide elections award City Council spots to the top-seven vote-earners. According to the LDF, the discriminatory practice is typically remedied by the creation of district representation wherein neighborhoods pick their own representatives.

The Legal Defense Fund also outlines Ohio law on the processes required to change at-large voting. A change to the “method of election” can be proposed on a ballot, with approval of two-thirds of the sitting council. Alternately, a public petition can also put such a measure on the ballot. Such a petition placed Issue One on the ballot this summer, and it was defeated by voters in August.

The local City Council does have members who are minorities, but the LDF is more concerned about the voting processes itself. According to the precedents set using the Voting Rights Act, the presence of minority leaders does not guarantee or imply that voters of color have been included in the election process. To date, a prerequisite for a minority to win a council seat in a Columbus city-wide election typically requires two things, (1) The advocacy of well-funded sources outside of communities of color and (2) The appointment process.

The document mentions only Columbus and Ohio as present-day city and state hosts of at-large voting. Both Alabama and Georgia are mentioned at the end of the discussion, as former hosts of at-large voting. In these cases, the practice was condemned and eradicated in rulings brought before the courts by… the LDF.

For more information, visit www.naacplegaldefensefund.org.

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