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NAACP threatens legal action, says data can't be ignored

By By Ben Alexander/The Meridian Star
March 10, 2001
A postponement of municipal elections in June hung in the balance Friday as the U.S. Department of Justice reviewed whether nine Mississippi cities including Meridian can delay redrawing ward lines.
After getting a glimpse of Census 2000 data for Meridian, a local NAACP official says if the U.S. Department of Justice doesn't act to stop June's municipal election his group will seek to stop it through legal action.
Justice Department officials confirmed Friday to The Meridian Star they were still looking into the possibility of stopping the June elections.
Clark and other local leaders got their first look Thursday at newly released census figures, which show a large shift in the city's racial demographic breakdown.
The preliminary figures indicate the number of Caucasians living in Meridian dropped by more than 10 percent during the last 10 years, while the city's African-American population rose by almost nine percent.
Because of the expected late release of Census 2000 results, state lawmakers passed legislation in January allowing Meridian and eight other municipalities with the same form of government to hold elections in June using 1990 census data.
The Legislature authorized the cities to redraw ward lines in time for the 2005 elections.
Clark asked the Justice Department in February to postpone the June elections until new ward lines could be drawn. In his letter, Clark claimed to delay redistricting for another four years was unneccesary and perhaps illegal under the Voting Rights Act.
Many African-American leaders feel when ward lines are redrawn, based on the new census data, three wards in Meridian are likely to have a majority black population. Currently, two of the city's five wards are majority black and their seats are held by Ward 2 Councilman Mary Perry and Ward 4 Councilman Jesse E. Palmer Sr.
Clark said he talked to Justice Department officials on Thursday, who claimed they were still investigating the Legislature's request to postpone redistricting. Clark said the official told him the department would make a decision within a month.
Mississippi is one of nine Southern states mandated by the 1965 Voting Rights Act to obtain Justice Department preclearance before changing any part of election law or redrawing voting district lines. The mandatory approval was designed to ensure minorities are proportionately represented in city and state government.
Ben Alexander is a staff writer for The Meridian Star. E-mail him at balexander@themeridianstar.com.

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