NATCHEZ, Miss. – A former Natchez mayor and former Adams County judge have gone to court to push the Natchez Board of Aldermen to redraw election wards that are out of line and have not been changed since the 2000 census.
By John Mott Coffey, Affiliate WQNZ
“It’s illegal,” former Adams County Justice Court judge Mary Lee Toles said of the way the six wards are currently aligned, with some containing much more people than others. “It needs to be a lot more equal than it is.”
Toles joined former Natchez mayor Phillip West and two other blacks in filing the federal lawsuit last month. The Board of Aldermen and Mayor Butch Brown discussed the suit Tuesday in a meeting they closed to the public.
The lawsuit filed May 22 in U.S. District Court comes a year before the 2016 city elections.
Election districts are redrawn every 10 years to ensure they reflect population changes and aren’t mal-apportioned.
The Justice Department three years ago rejected new Natchez wards the board had approved prior to the 2012 municipal elections . Aldermen were then elected from the old wards drawn from the 2000 census. The current Board of Aldermen has three blacks and three whites.
The Justice Department said the board in 2012 reduced Ward 5’s black voting-age population and failed to prove it wasn’t done to prevent the election of a black alderman. Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery – who is white — currently represents the ward, which has about a 52 percent black voting-age population.
Aside from a brief reminder earlier this year from City Clerk Donnie Holloway about the need to redraw wards, aldermen have had little public discussion of this.
The U.S. Supreme Court in 2013 did throw out provisions the U.S. Justice Department had used for 40 years to determine if Natchez and other southern cities and states make election changes that discriminate against blacks. Election lines no longer require the Justice Department’s review and approval through a pre-clearance process.