(Beaufort, SC) — Yesterday, the Burton-Dale-Beaufort Branch of the NAACP strongly urged the Beaufort City Council to end the current discriminatory at-large based system of voting and put up for voter referendum a district-based voting map that will ensure that all of Beaufort’s residents have an equal say in the political process.
“The Beaufort City Council has not had a Black council member for 20 years because of at-large voting,” said Darryl T. Murphy, President of the Burton-Dale-Beaufort NAACP. “The City Council has the power to change that disgraceful reality, and we call upon them to do so without delay.”
The City Council makes many important decisions related to the City budget, spending and programming, and zoning and land use regulations. These decisions directly impact Black residents of the City who, under an at-large method of election, lack the ability to elect responsive members of the City Council to make these important decisions on their behalf. District voting provides an equal opportunity to Black Beaufort residents to elect representatives (council members) of their choice to the Beaufort City Council.
Despite Beaufort’s rich historic tradition – including that Black people continuously have lived and contributed to the City for more than three centuries – its Black residents have not had an equal voice in the democratic process.
“Beaufort is an outlier not only in South Carolina, but also in this country in that most other cities use a district-based method of election,” said Leah Aden, Assistant Counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, an entity separate from the NAACP since 1957 and which has been working with the Burton-Dale-Beaufort NAACP and the City Council to address this lack of representation for many months now. “Fighting to maintain a discriminatory at-large voting system is expensive and time-consuming,” Aden added, noting that Charleston County, another historic district in South Carolina, litigated for over four years and spent millions of dollars in an ultimately unsuccessful fight to preserve its unfair at-large voting system.
“The at-large method of electing members to the Beaufort City Council deprives Beaufort’s residents of color the opportunity to elect council members of their choice, which likely violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and the United States Constitution,” Aden said. “We hope that the City Council will agree that putting this matter to a referendum is far preferable to costly litigation.”
“The Burton-Dale-Beaufort NAACP will be vigorously mobilizing local Beaufort residents to support district voting. The time for change is now,” Murphy said.