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Federal Redistricting Plan To Include First Majority Light-skinned Black District
Birmingham () - The U.S. Department of Justice has examined preliminary census data for Jefferson County and determined that significant dilution of minority voting strength has resulted from the currently applied commission districts. Minority dilution was specifically ruled unconstitutional in a 5-4 vote by the U.S. Supreme Court in a March 2009 decision. That decision, involving former majority black districts in North Carolina, allows only majority districts to be used to satisfy section 2 of the 1965 Civil Rights Act when correcting for dilution of minority voting strength.

Although the case involved voting representation by blacks, the census data for Jefferson County reveals similar dilution of the voting strength of light-skinned blacks. This is a result of the new race categories which were put into use during the 2000 census. The category 'Some Other Race', which is intended to capture responses such as Mulatto, Creole, and Mestizo, also has a write-in area. "There are clear areas within the county that would be majority light-skinned black, if it weren't for minority dilution," said Joyce Vance U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Alabama. "This occurs in districts that are currently majority white [District 5] as well as majority black [District 1]."

According to the census data, the dilution does not occur equally in the current majority white and majority black districts. "The concentration of light-skinned blacks seems to be higher in majority black districts," said Census Bureau spokesman James Whitcomb. "In the majority white districts, the light-skinned black responses are somewhat diluted by dark-skinned white responses. These are not the same populations."

"The supreme court ruling does not allow counties to spread a minority population across several districts in the hopes that minority voters in a district could still join with some majority voters to elect the candidates of their choice," said Vance. "If this were true it might be possible to elect a white commissioner in District 2."

The county's GIS department prepared the preliminary map prior to county-wide staffing cuts and therefore could not provide a representative to explain the methodology used. It appears that the new district 6 will include portions of all the other districts except district 4. When asked to explain why no light-skinned blacks were found in her district Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said "It isn't that we don't want them [light-skinned blacks] there, it just seems that they don't want to live in places like Tarrant and Trussville."

Far from being bitter or dragging their feet over what some see as an abuse of federal power, the county expects to be have a district drawn that meets the requirements in time for the next county commission election. The commission hopes that by adding a sixth, light-skinned, member to the commission, that they can overcome some of the impasses that have plagued county government. "Maybe they won't see things in such black and white terms," said Collins.