Justice Department sues Eastpointe over voting rights violations

Photo by Steve Neavling.

Eastpointe’s at-large city council elections are racially discriminatory because they make it nearly impossible for a black person to win a seat, the Justice Department said in a federal complaint Tuesday.

The lawsuit takes aim at the city’s practice of holding at-large elections in which voters cast a ballot for each of the four city council members. The system violates the Voting Rights Act, the complaint alleges.

The Justice Department suggests the city – a suburb of Detroit – should elect council members by district to give black candidates a fair chance.

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“Review of elections establish that the black population of Eastpointe is politically cohesive and that the white population votes sufficiently as a bloc to usually defeat the preferred candidate of black voters,” the complaint states.  

About 30% of the city’s population is black and “geographically compact,” but no African Americans have been elected to the council. The complaints says black residents would have a better chance if the council members were elected by districts.

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“We filed this lawsuit to ensure that all voters in Eastpointe have a fair opportunity to participate in their local government,” U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade said in a statement.

The complaint also claims Eastpointe has a history of racial discrimination.

“The black population of Eastpointe continues to suffer from the effects of discrimination in education, policing, and employment, particularly municipal employment,” officials said.

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Steve Neavling

Steve Neavling lives and works in Detroit as an investigative journalist. His stories have uncovered corruption, led to arrests and reforms and prompted FBI investigations.