The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) and the Alabama voting rights attorney Jim Blacksher filed a federal complaint today against the City of Pleasant Grove, Alabama, its mayor, and its five City Council members. The complaint was filed on behalf of the Alabama NAACP and Eric Calhoun and Jennifer Ford, individual voters residing in the city, challenging the city’s at-large method of election for city council, which has prevented a Black candidate from ever being elected to the City Council.
“Federal courts have repeatedly ruled that at-large elections in Alabama are unconstitutional because they silence the voices of Black voters by preventing them from electing candidates of their choice to local offices,” said Deuel Ross, Assistant Counsel at LDF. “The City Council has the power and the duty to change this illegal election system and we hope we can work together to quickly resolve this case so that all voters are heard.”
At-large voting requires all voters to cast a ballot for all five members of the City Council. Candidates must run from numbered places and receive a majority of the vote to win. In places like Pleasant Grove where the white majority votes against the candidates preferred by Black voters, at-large elections effectively lock Black voters out of local government. In the landmark Dillard v. Crenshaw County case, LDF and Mr. Blacksher successfully challenged the use of discriminatory at-large elections in nearly 200 of Alabama’s cities, counties, and school boards.
“It is unacceptable that a Black candidate has never been elected to the Pleasant Grove City Council in a city where half of the residents are Black,” said Catherine Meza, Senior Counsel at LDF. “It’s time that Pleasant Grove’s residents of color are fully represented. That starts with a fair election system.”
Pleasant Grove has a well-documented history of racial discrimination in voting, education, employment, and housing. For example, in City of Pleasant Grove v. United States (1987), the U.S. Supreme Court found that the city had intentionally discriminated when it annexed nearby unincorporated white communities, but not similarly situated Black communities.
“For far too long, Black voters in Pleasant Grove have been denied the chance to elect their preferred representatives,” said Bernard Simelton, President of the Alabama NAACP. “We are fully committed to working with the City Council to ensure that its electoral system is fair to everyone.”
The complaint against Pleasant Grove comes after a letter sent by LDF to the city’s mayor in March requesting that the City Council switch to an election system with single-member districts.
Last year, LDF won a similar lawsuit against Louisiana state officials, where an at-large voting model had prevented a Black candidate from being elected to the state judiciary in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana. The court held that Louisiana had intentionally discriminated in refusing to adopt single member districts that would permit Black voters to elect candidates of their choice.
Read the full complaint here.
Founded in 1940, the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF) is the nation’s first civil and human rights law organization and has been completely separate from the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) since 1957—although LDF was originally founded by the NAACP and shares its commitment to equal rights. LDF’s Thurgood Marshall Institute is a multi-disciplinary and collaborative hub within LDF that launches targeted campaigns and undertakes innovative research to shape the civil rights narrative. In media attributions, please refer to us as the NAACP Legal Defense Fund or LDF.